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.
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.
You should feel that your needs and wishes are being listened to during labour, particularly around pain relief. Every labour and birth is unique and care should be tailored to you.
This part of labour can sometimes last a long time. This page explains what the latent phase of labour is and how to get through it as comfortably as possible.
In the diary of a third pregnancy our diarist tries to capture the pain and magic of the birth of her son.
Hypnobirthing is a method of pain management that can be used during labour and birth. It involves using a mixture of visualisation, relaxation and deep breathing techniques.
You might like to consider giving birth at home for a more relaxed experience in familiar surroundings. Find out whether this is the right option for you.
Are you thinking about having a water birth? Find out about the advantages and disadvantages of giving birth in the water, what to wear and what the pain relief options are.
Cutting the cord immediately after the birth has been routine practice for 50-60 years but more recently research is showing that it is not good for the baby.
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.
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.
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.
The ideal position for your baby to be in for labour and birth is head down, their back towards the front of your stomach.
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.
NHS Choices. Signs that labour has begun. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/labour-signs-what-happens/#know-the-signs (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 https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190Hide details
ℹLast reviewed on June 5th, 2019. Next review date June 5th, 2022.