How will I know when labour has started?

This is a common worry for first-time mums, but once labour really gets going you'll definitely know.

The early signs of labour are:

  • A show (the mucous plug at your cervix comes away and appears as a pinky-brown jelly-like blob or in pieces.)
  • You might feel pains that feel like strong period pains (these are the start of contractions)
  • You might have pain in your lower back that comes in waves.

You may find that your waters break, in which case you know that labour is, or soon will be, under way, or you might start by 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. Look out, too, for waves of backache, as some women find that this is where they feel their contractions.

Once labour has started, your contractions will become more regular and won't go away! When you are having a contraction every five minutes (and last 30-60 seconds), call your midwife, birth centre or hospital labour ward if you are giving birth there. 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.

If you're still not sure whether you're in labour, phone the labour ward or your midwife. They are used to dealing with false alerts so don't worry.

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

Read more about the symptoms of labour

Read more

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    What is hypnobirthing?

    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.

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    Having a home birth

    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.

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    How to prepare for a water birth

    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.

  • A photo of a woman just after she's given birth with her newborn baby on her chest and stomach having skin to skin contact

    Delayed cord clamping (DCC)

    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.

  • Pregnant woman holding her back.

    What to expect when your waters break

    Your waters can break before you go in to hospital but they are more likely to break during labour, or they can even be broken for you by your midwife to speed up your labour (a process known as artificial rupture of membranes).

Last reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.

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  • By kevin (not verified) on 10 Jan 2019 - 15:09

    my wife is expecting this month,and she is complaining of stomach every now and then,is that labour pain?.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Jan 2019 - 16:30

    Hi - Thank you for your message.
    At this stage in a pregnancy, irregular uterine tightening could be Braxton Hicks which is the name given to the action when the womb contracts and tightens with your bump becoming hard to touch; it then relaxes again, becoming soft. They usually they start in the second half of the pregnancy but can happen earlier. Many women don’t have them at all. They are often called ‘practise contractions’ but they are NOT contractions.

    Sometimes you may feel one or two tightenings in an hour or in a day, but they are usually short, lasting about 20-30 seconds each, irregular and do not continue for a long period of time. Most of the time, women find them to be painless but sometimes they can be uncomfortable.

    Why do you get Braxton Hicks?
    It is not really known why Braxton Hicks happen. They are usually explained as the body’s way of getting ready for labour, however, although they happen in the third trimester they are not a sign that labour is about to start very soon. They can be triggered by sexual intercourse, if mother or baby is very active, or if someone touches your bump. Braxton Hicks can also happen if you are dehydrated in pregnancy.

    How to tell the difference between Braxton Hicks and contractions
    Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if the tightenings are Braxton Hicks or labour is starting.
    Braxton Hicks are not usually painful, are irregular, short and do not continue as ongoing tightenings.
    Labour contractions are painful, last up to about a minute and continue, getting closer together and more intense.
    Labour contractions can also be accompanied by other signs of labour, such as waters breaking and a ‘show’.

  • By Audrey (not verified) on 10 Dec 2018 - 22:20

    Im having sharp pain in my back to my abdomen that i could nt sleep but now it is going away its painful and unbearable

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Dec 2018 - 14:31

    Hi Audrey, Thank you for your comment.

    If you have having severe pain that is unbearable then we would suggest that you call your local labour ward and be seen. Please do this as soon as you can. Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x

  • By Thembi (not verified) on 6 Dec 2018 - 08:16

    35 weeks and having back pain and cramps in my stomach

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 7 Dec 2018 - 16:58

    Hi Thembi,
    If you are having ongoing cramps and back pain then I would suggest that you ring your maternity unit for a review. This would be especially urgent if you are worried about your baby's movement, or you are having any bleeding.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Arrianne Mier M... (not verified) on 18 Nov 2018 - 12:12

    I am 38weeks pregnant, i went for check up today. I am 4cm dilated but they sent me home. And now i am having sharp pain in my vagina. Uncomfortable when walking and lying. Lower back pain. Do i need to go back for a check up?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Nov 2018 - 15:14

    You have most likely delivered by now but in case you haven't and are still at home in the same situation, we advise you to call the delivery suite whenever you feel you need advice but in many situation the staff will suggest that you stay at home until your contractions are regular. If you are concerned about the movements or have any bleeding or if your waters break, you should go straight in. Take good care of yourself.

  • By Jerica Joyce (not verified) on 13 Nov 2018 - 13:06

    Hi, i'm currently 38wks+4days and having this vaginal sharp pain, lowbackpain, cramps and contractions. I went to the hosp last saturday and was already 1cm dilated 50% effaced. Should I go the hosp for follow up? I'm a a first time mom.Thanks.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Nov 2018 - 16:16

    Hi - Thank you for your message. If you are still experiencing pain please contact your hospital to be reviewed urgently.

  • By by shezip (not verified) on 12 Nov 2018 - 20:59

    Am 24weeks two weeks i feel stomach pains for 5 seconds they stop,,,what could it be

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Nov 2018 - 10:31

    Hi - Please contact your local maternity hospital or GP to be reviewed urgently if you are still experiencing pain.

  • By Brunette (not verified) on 9 Nov 2018 - 07:16 33weeks n 5days n am experiencing a very sharp pain in my left side could it be a sign of labour pls help am a first time mum

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 12 Nov 2018 - 15:49

    Hi Brunette
    You need to go into your nearest hospital to be reviewed as soon as possible by a midwife and obstetric doctor. This is not normal for this gestation. Please be seen urgently. Tommy's Midwife

  • By Sylvie (not verified) on 8 Nov 2018 - 18:14

    I am 36weeks 4days pregnant but i have been feeling pains at my abdomen tightening movement of the baby and viginal pains could it be labour

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 12 Nov 2018 - 15:47

    Hi Sylvie
    Please go into your nearest hospital for review. Feeling pains and tightening's in your stomach and vagina at this gestation needs to be reviewed by an obstetric doctor and midwife as a matter of urgency.
    Tommy's Midwife

  • By pelo (not verified) on 28 Oct 2018 - 14:40

    I'm 35 weeks pregnant.Last night I had a pain in my waste.I cried For about an hour.Then I slept last night,now I feel back pain and front.I never felt this before because my 2 babies had been for c sections.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Oct 2018 - 15:35

    Hi Pelo
    You need to go to your local hospital pregnancy triage/labour ward for urgent assessment and review by an obstetric doctor and midwife as soon as possible. It is possible you are having Braxton Hicks contractions, but you need to be checked over first for this to be decided.
    Take your pregnancy notes with you. Tommy's Midwife

  • By Hi, Phionah (not verified) on 12 Oct 2018 - 15:07

    I went for a check up last week on Wednesday and I was 1cm dilated am now 38 weeks but am having some back pain how long will it take me to be 10 cm am first time mom it's a week now

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 15 Oct 2018 - 16:27

    Unfortunately the information that you are 1cm dilated is not very helpful. Women can be 1cm dilated for days or even weeks. You are not likely to dilate without contractions and those contractions need to be regular for you to be able to deliver your baby. Please don't worry, 38 weeks is still early. It isn't possible to tell when you will deliver, you just have to be patient. Best wishes

  • By Bilha Muhihu (not verified) on 2 Oct 2018 - 07:46

    My due date was on 29th September. I feel so much pressure on my pelvic and sharp contractions that last for a short while and go. But when I take a rest all the contractions cease. Are these signs of labour? Should I go for check up because am 3days past my due date?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 4 Oct 2018 - 15:07

    Hi Bilha, Thank you for your comment.
    If you are experiencing any abdominal pain or contractions then we would recommend that you call your maternity unit and be checked over, it could be that you are starting in labour so it is better to be seen and reassured. Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x

  • By Ndidiamaka (not verified) on 27 Sep 2018 - 06:21

    Am in my 36 weeks am feeling leg cramp, my waist pains front and back. It has been bitting me for two days now

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 27 Sep 2018 - 15:36

    Hi Ndidiamaka, Thank you for you comment.

    It is difficult to say if you are going into labour but as you have been having these pains for the past 2 days then it would be advisable for you to be seen at your local maternity unit. If you are having these leg cramps in just one leg then you also need to be seen in case this is a sign of a blood clot in your leg, as the risk of blood clots can increase during pregnancy. Please don't be alarmed, it could be just aches and pains of normal pregnancy but it is advisable that you are seen and checked over by a doctor or a midwife. Hope this helps. Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x

  • By chezza (not verified) on 26 Sep 2018 - 21:58

    i’m 37 weeks and booked in for c section in 2 weeks 1day . i have been having lower backache for 2 days . lots of pressure on my pelvis so much it feels bruised baby is very active feel the need to pee all the time also having tightenings

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 27 Sep 2018 - 12:46

    Hi Chezza, Thank you for your comment.

    If you are experiencing lower back ache with tightening's then we would advise that you call your local antenatal maternity day unit to be checked over, especially if your feel that you need to pass urine a lot, it could be that you may have a urine infection so again, please call the hospital to be checked over. We want to rule out if you are going into labour, if this is happening then your c section will just be moved forward. Hope this helps. Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x

  • By Stephanie (not verified) on 26 Sep 2018 - 16:49

    Hi i am 37 weeks pregnan right now, and i've been experiencing Abdominal pain, back pain and mucos discharges. And contractions too. I've already have it checked with my ob and she said i'm already 2cm. What does this mean? Am i going to deliver soon? Or this may take 2weeks?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 26 Sep 2018 - 16:57

    Hi Stephanie
    You are in the early phase of labour - this can take 1-2 days on average for a 1st time mum. Once you are 4 cms dilated or over you are in active labour.
    If the contractions come 2-3 times in 10 mins, lasting 45-60 seconds or longer, for more than 2 hours, then you need to go into hospital. Stay in close contact with your maternity ward team so that they know how far apart your contractions are and can invite you to come in to be reviewed or stay at home for a little longer until the contractions are closer together
    All the best
    Tommy's Midwife

  • By Trendah (not verified) on 19 Sep 2018 - 05:50

    Am 38 weeks now and I have these pains which appear to be irregular in my vagina.sometimes I can't even move ..went to see my doctor and she said its false labour advised on taking paracetamol but it does it work...please help

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Sep 2018 - 13:07

    Hi Trendah,
    Paracetamol may help a little with the pain but unlikely to take the pain away. If the pains continue and you are worried then do contact your maternity unit for advice and a review. If you have any bleeding or concerns about baby's movements then go straight to the hospital.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Bunmi (not verified) on 17 Sep 2018 - 16:10

    Am 38 weeks pregnant and have been having severe menstration like cramp and stooling since my 37 weeks. is these something tobe worried about or its normal

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Sep 2018 - 13:01

    Hi Bunmi,
    Period type cramps and some loose stools can be a sign of your body preparing for or being in early labour. If you have any pain, bleeding, think your waters have broken or any concerns about your baby's movements then do ring the maternity uni straight away.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Queen (not verified) on 8 Sep 2018 - 14:02

    Hi I'm queen I'm 40weeks full and it my due date, my water broker yesterday but today I feel string pain in my back and front abdomen but only when I'm sitting plz help

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 12 Sep 2018 - 10:17

    Hi Queen
    Our website is not available for urgent queries-please contact your maternity unit as soon as possible if you think your water has broken. Hopefully you have had your baby by now!

  • By Helen (not verified) on 8 Sep 2018 - 11:41

    I have been having pains in my abdomen and pain in my back for something but yesterday it was as if I want to see my menstrual flow but my water have not broken help please 37 and six days

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 12 Sep 2018 - 09:53

    Hi Helen
    Back ache and period like pains can be signs that your labour is starting or that you are in early labour. If the waters break, there is any bleeding, you start to have regular painful contractions, the baby is moving less or you experience headaches, blurred vision, severe itching,abdominal pain or any other concerns then you should contact your maternity unit as soon as possible for further advice

  • By Jay (not verified) on 31 Aug 2018 - 20:59

    I hv been having periods like cramps for de pass two days after losing my mucus plug 4 days earlier but de cramping is not getting more intense. Am 41 weeks exactly today

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 7 Sep 2018 - 12:06

    Hi Jay,
    Sometimes you an have cramps that can last for a few days or even weeks. It is likely you have had your baby now but any concerns then do ring the hospital for advice.
    Tommy's midwife

  • By Marj (not verified) on 25 Aug 2018 - 22:36

    hi im 1day over due today. i dont feel anything yet like back pain. , except im having a hard time to go to sleep, i have this pain that when i lay down im having a hardtime to turn from left to right, and i always felt that i like to poop but nothing is coming out, and i fart alot. but right now i continue to walk, im little bit worried since this is my first baby. i think the baby is fine i can feel the movement. my husband wants me to wait 3days from my due date. any suggestion?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Aug 2018 - 13:04

    Hi Marj
    It is very common to go over your due date with your first baby.
    I know that it is difficult to sleep in the 3rd trimester - but you could try sleeping on either of your sides with a pillow between your knees to support your hips. Turning over can be difficult- but just take your time.
    Being constipated is also very common - try to drink 2-3 litres of water a day and eat plenty of leafy greens and vegetables and eat a diet high in fibre to make it easier to pass a stool. You can also buy over the counter stool softeners that are safe to take during pregnancy - so your local pharmacist can assist you with that.
    If you are ever worried that babies movements have reduced, then please go right away into your maternity unit to be seen and the baby monitored. It is very important that you do not wait and leave it if you are worried. Please take care and feel free to call our helpline directly Mon to Fri 9 am to 5pm if you need advice.
    All the best
    Tommy's Midwife

  • By Kayla (not verified) on 12 Aug 2018 - 22:23

    Hey there I am 34 weeks an some days my bay has dropped I get tightening belly an vagina pains like period like cramps on an off what could it be!?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Aug 2018 - 14:52

    Hi Kayla. Please call your midwife if you have pain. If the tightenings are not painful these may be Braxton hicks contractions and are normal in pregnancy.

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 8 Nov 2018 - 18:40

    I am 36weeks 5days feeling back ache and abdominal pain could this be labour but water has not broken yet only brownish mucus coming out

  • By Foluke (not verified) on 8 Aug 2018 - 20:52

    I am in 41weeks of pregnant I have back pain and abdomen pain it only last for some minutes please help me out

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Aug 2018 - 14:49

    Hi Foluke
    If you are concerned about pain at this gestation please call your midwife for advice. Take care

  • By Babalwa (not verified) on 6 Aug 2018 - 12:18

    Hi..I have been feeling leg cramps since morning but they come and go..this only happens when I wake up but if I lay on my bed I can't feel due date is 26 August...this is my second this a sign of labour or?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 6 Aug 2018 - 16:33

    This doesn't sound like a sign of labour but is quite common in the late stages of pregnancy. Try to keep mobile if you can and try some leg exercises too to increase the blood flow. Raising your legs up when you are sitting should also help. It's not too long to go now, most symptoms usually go away after your pregnancy. Take care

  • By Christina (not verified) on 3 Aug 2018 - 10:39

    Hi I am 38 weeks and confuse .my vigina produce a jelly like mucus .I don't know what does it mean or is it early labour or what I'm confuse

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 3 Aug 2018 - 16:54

    Hi Christina,
    It sounds like it could be part of your show, sometimes it can have a small amount of blood in it too. If you have any watery loss, tightenings, bleeding or concerns about baby's movements then do call the maternity unit straight away.
    Best wishes
    Tommy's midwife

  • By zippie (not verified) on 31 Jul 2018 - 13:17

    hi, i am 39 weeks now...i have been having lower abdominal pain which goes around my lower back. it comes and goes again i'm experiencing breath difficulties and when taking a short walk of about 20 steps i feel so tired where am forced sit or support myself with something...plz help

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