How will I know when labour has started?

This is a common worry for first-time mums, but there are some signs that labour may be starting.

If your pregnancy is considered high risk or you are less than 37 weeks pregnant, contact your maternity unit if you think labour has started or if there is anything you’re worried about.

Every woman’s experience of labour is different. But there are several signs that labour may be starting. You may experience:

  • a ‘show’, which is when the mucus plug from your cervix comes away – it appears as a pink-brown jelly-like blob or in pieces
  • pains in your tummy that may feel like strong period pains – these these are the start of contractions
  • lower back pain
  • an urge to go to the toilet – this is caused by your baby’s head pressing on your bowel.

Your waters may also break or you might start feeling contractions. These will be different from the practice Braxton Hicks contractions that you may already have had. They feel stronger, deeper and more painful.

Call your midwife, birth centre or hospital labour ward and tell them what’s happening. The start of labour is called the latent stage and can last hours or, for some women, days. If you are more than 37 weeks with an uncomplicated pregnancy, you’ll probably be advised to stay at home until your labour is ‘established’. This is when your cervix opens (dilates) to at least 4cm and your contractions become stronger and more regular.

Find out more about what happens in labour.

Once labour gets going, your contractions will become more regular and won't go away. Call your midwife, birth centre or hospital labour ward when you are having a contraction every 5 minutes that last 30–60 seconds. If you have chosen a home birth, the midwife will come to you.

If this is not your first baby, or you are likely to have a quick labour, your midwife may advise you to call earlier than this.

Call the labour ward or your midwife If you're still not sure whether you're in labour. They are used to dealing with false alerts so don't worry about wasting anyone’s time.

Wondering what to expect from those first twinges? Find out what contractions really feel like.


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Read more about labour and birth

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    If your waters break naturally, you may feel a slow trickle or a sudden gush of fluid that you can’t stop. Your waters may break before you go to hospital but are more likely to break during labour.

  • Pregnant woman holding her back.

    Braxton Hicks

    Braxton Hicks contractions are the body’s way of preparing for labour, but if you have them it doesn’t mean your labour has started. Here, we explain more about Braxton Hicks.

  • Pregnant woman in a yoga class

    5 positive ways to prepare for labour

    If you’re feeling a bit anxious about giving birth, there are things you can do that may help. Here’s some helpful advice from mums who’ve been there.

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    Getting your baby into the best birth position

    The ideal position for your baby to be in for labour and birth is head down, their back towards the front of your stomach.

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    4 ways your body gets ready for labour

    At the end of your pregnancy, you may have some signs that your baby will arrive very soon, even though you may not go into labour for a little while yet.

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    The membrane sweep is a drug-free way of helping to bring on labour when you are going past your due date.


NHS Choices. Signs that labour has begun. (Page last reviewed: 09/11/2017 Next review due: 011/2020)

NICE (2017). Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies National Institute for health and care excellence

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    Last reviewed on June 5th, 2019. Next review date June 5th, 2022.

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    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.
    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 7 Mar 2020 - 05:16

      Hi am approximately 36 weeks an am feeling lower back pains it feels like my bones a shifting in my hips and on and off bearable period pains what's happening?

    • By Tilly (not verified) on 6 Mar 2020 - 12:56

      Helpful information

    • By Susan (not verified) on 11 Feb 2020 - 17:51

      Hi I have been extremely been in pain for 3weeks and when i see my doctor all he says is that am not yet ready to give birth and am already 9months pregnant what can I do to open up the way

    • By Sophia (not verified) on 31 Jan 2020 - 12:56

      I'm 40 weeks and 5 days pregnant with severe back pain and a lot of pressure on my pelvis, pelvic pains still no signs of labor. Midwife says my baby is engaged but I can not wait any longer can I make my baby be more engaged

    • By Sarah (not verified) on 27 Jan 2020 - 01:21

      I'm almost in my eighth month. I'm experiencing loose bowels, back pain and nausea. Pls what does it mean?

    • By Novola (not verified) on 22 Jan 2020 - 17:13

      Hello please help me, l am 9 months l have watery exchange is normal is my first baby

    • By Benny (not verified) on 17 Jan 2020 - 01:21

      am 38weeks.i having b having watery stool for the past one week.n I have b gassing through my anus for the pass 4days now pls last menses was on the 25 of April 2019.pls help

    • By Litesha (not verified) on 3 Dec 2019 - 22:49

      I am experiencing really bad pelvis pain to the point I cant move it's there 247 I can't even walk ether have to hold on to walls just walk what does this mean am I going into labor or is it just my body getting ready. This is my second child.

    • By Queen (not verified) on 30 Nov 2019 - 14:52

      Am 38 weeks 3 days and i feel something painful like menstrual cramp, frequently urinating and pain to my right leg . Is this a real sign of labour pain or a false one

    • By Chra (not verified) on 24 Dec 2019 - 00:00

      Hi ,, I am 38 weeks 3 days and have the same sign,,can u please tell me did you have your baby at this time ?? Please let me know thanks

    • By Lydia (not verified) on 10 Feb 2020 - 20:32

      Frequent urinating and pains in the leg

    • By Mumy (not verified) on 16 Nov 2019 - 09:43

      I am felling lower pelvic pains back pains but not that severe and also nomarlize when I changed position but it is frequent please is it an early labor sign or false labor

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Nov 2019 - 13:05

      Hi Mumy - please go into your local maternity unit labour ward/triage for review. abdominal and back pains can be a sign of early labour, but other things also need to be ruled out. Don't forget to take your pregnancy notes. Be seen as soon as you can if you have not yet been seen by a midwife and obstetric doctor. Tommy's Midwife

    • By Charlotte (not verified) on 31 Oct 2019 - 14:19

      41weeks pregnant and can't take it anymore... Night pains which always go away after 5hrs.what to do

    • By Esther, (not verified) on 3 Oct 2019 - 14:56

      Am 40weeks pregnant. My contractions come wit pains and go. Less cramps. What should I do

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 9 Oct 2019 - 12:33

      Esther, please go to hospital for review- Tommy's Midwife

    • By Priviledge (not verified) on 25 Aug 2019 - 08:48

      The other scan sid my due date was 20 August and the second one said 28..... Few day ago i had some cramps like period pain.... Today its started again.... I had jelly like discharge with blood.... I have a running stomach and a very sharp pain like period pain.... But not a backache....and it lasted the whole night.... Now im feeling fine again im now confused if im in labour or its flase labour please help

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 28 Aug 2019 - 12:49

      Hi Priviledge
      Please go to be seen urgently at your nearest maternity unit. Take care of yourself. Tommy's Midwife

    • By Nana (not verified) on 18 Aug 2019 - 03:38

      I'm 38 weeks pregnant, I currently have been feeling too much abdominal pains, is been two nights now. I read from the top where you were explaining about Brixton Hicks, how long will they take to stop?

    • By Nandini (not verified) on 25 Jan 2020 - 15:59

      I am 38 weeks pregnant,severe back pain it's sign of labor two days ago heavy pain tell me

    • By Chloe (not verified) on 15 Aug 2019 - 14:03

      Am 38weeks pregnant...I have been feeling tightening on my lower abdomen,leg cramps,lack of appetite and vomiting for 2days now...what could it be?

    • By Wura (not verified) on 6 Aug 2019 - 03:08

      Am 40weeks pregnant and have been induce since yesterday night and ever since then have been having pain in my lower abdomen and my back and
      I could not sleep could it be sign of labour pls I need help

    • By mm (not verified) on 12 Aug 2019 - 14:22


    • By Esther (not verified) on 24 Jul 2019 - 09:41

      Am 38weeks and 4days still no sign of labour what can I do for labour to start

    • By Selena (not verified) on 16 Jul 2019 - 13:45

      Hello, tomorrow I will be 35 weeks pregnant. I am slowly loosing my mucus plug last night I had really bad back pain, normally when I wake up it’s gone but the pain is still there. Does this mean I am going into early labor?

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 17 Jul 2019 - 11:37

      Hi Selena
      please go to your local maternity unit to be reviewed by a midwife and obstetric doctor as soon as you can! Tommy's Midwife

    • By esther (not verified) on 13 Jul 2019 - 12:26

      iam 35week, iam having a back pain , abdominal pain , stomach pain, diahree,sharp pain on my Virginia, and a watering discharge,
      is it a sign of labour,

    • By Tipagya (not verified) on 5 Jul 2019 - 21:02

      Pls am 34weeks pregnant n having a whitish discharge could it be a sign of labor

    • By Mel (not verified) on 19 Jun 2019 - 22:53

      38 weeks, 1.5 cent dilated maybe 2 by now. Cramping lots. Back pains and sharp pains in my vaginal area. Baby is moving non stop though. Any ideas? I have had two prior one at 37 weeks and one at 38 weeks.

    • By Maggy (not verified) on 6 Jun 2019 - 13:36

      I am 37 weeks 5 days pregnant,I have back pain for two days and I am at 1 cm dilation.what does it mean?

    • By Helen (not verified) on 12 Jun 2019 - 17:37


      How can you tell your dilated

    • By Tiffany (not verified) on 22 Jun 2019 - 19:41

      What to do if 34weeks and having contractions

    • By Maggy (not verified) on 4 Jun 2019 - 23:36

      I am 37 weeks 3 days,I have period like back pain which is getting stronger every day,sometimes I vomit,feel tired and pressured pelvic. What does it mean?

    • By Ayanda (not verified) on 4 Jun 2019 - 09:04

      Good day I'm currently 41 weeks pregnant feeling back pain that's come and go but sometimes só heavy painful my first pregnancy

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 13 May 2019 - 14:22

      Hi,im 41 wks preg,i've been having back pain since this morning,this is my 3rd child,i had same pain past few days the whole night they stopped,so now the pain started 7:00am n its nw 4:00pm they still comes n stop,are this braxtonhicks or labor sign,pls help thnk u

    • By signs of labor (not verified) on 10 May 2019 - 07:44

      Make sure that you discuss your preference with your doctor during your early stages of labour. The doctor would take a call based on what is best suited for you.

    • By Rashunda (not verified) on 1 May 2019 - 05:12

      Hi I'm 35weeks and 2days..I feel lower back pain every time I stand walk or just move around. Had heavy discharge but not bloody.very uncomfortable to sleep my sides get numb.. is this a sign of preterm labor..

    • By Leanneg (not verified) on 4 Aug 2019 - 15:21

      I have the same pain.. And in my stomac x

    • By Jean (not verified) on 16 Aug 2019 - 23:50

      I have the same symptoms..I'm 35 weeks today

    • By Shehaam (not verified) on 25 Apr 2019 - 04:14

      Hi. Havin ache in the middle of my back, left side only. Constant feeling of urinating, menstrual like cramps in pelvic area. Baby very, very active. I think I've lost my plug at 35 weeks, told my midwife but have never gotten an internal exam so not sure if I'm dilated. Diahree, nausea, vomiting now and then with headaches, shortness of breath. Midwife says it's probably just my hormones but booked me to check measurements of baby saying he's been measuring big for dates. This is taking place on 29/04. Could this be reason for all symptoms mentioned? Am booked as a high risk patient as well, aged 34 with 2 kids and 3 miscarriages

    • By Mia (not verified) on 19 May 2019 - 13:21

      Nobody knows and don't no how far I am but I'm having all the signs of bith please help

    • By Laura (not verified) on 2 Apr 2019 - 13:30

      Hi I'm 37+1 weeks and for the last 2 days had period like cramps, weeing and pooing more than usual and today have been sick and feeling sick have also got a pain in my lower left hand side close to the groin first time mum is this the start of labour ?

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 24 Apr 2019 - 16:14

      Hi Laura
      You can get these symptoms at the start of labour-I would advise contacting your maternity unit for more advice as they may suggest you come to the unit for assessment

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 19 Mar 2019 - 20:48

      please help a sister
      av been 40 weeks pregnant,I do feel contractions, severe headache and body pain I urinate most often and feel like going to toilet wen d contraction dis a early sign of labor?? should I wait or go to the hospital

    • By Rachelle (not verified) on 10 Jun 2019 - 17:40

      Did you have your baby ? And how long did it take I’m having the same thing please help

    • By Chy (not verified) on 24 Aug 2019 - 17:50

      Having the same experience. Kindly tell me about yours. How did it later go?

    • By Anonymous (not verified) on 14 Mar 2019 - 22:30

      Hi I'm 41 weeks 3 days woke up this morning to a cramping pain weak and I've been having Sharp pains all through I don't know if I'm in labor

    • By Tsholofelo (not verified) on 11 Mar 2019 - 22:25

      Am 39 weeks pregnant and am having cramps in my stomach more especially in the morning and I hardly don't sleep at night and my baby kicks are very painful and fat a lot and I urinate continuesly and feeling pains that are up normal in my legs does that shows the sign of labour am worried

    • By Pamela (not verified) on 8 Mar 2019 - 21:55

      Hy am 40 week's today ave been having discharge with blood for 5day an now am hvng shrp pain in my low bell especially when am sitting or walking, a can't sleep

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 11 Mar 2019 - 11:44

      Hi Pamela, I would suggest that you go and see your midwife for a check. It may help to reassure you that all is well. BW

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