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.

Read more about the symptoms of labour

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

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  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 Jul 2017 - 22:23

    Been having cramping , sharp pains in vagina , pains in my stomach on the right side at the bottom and horrible back pains , is this the starting of labour?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 17 Jul 2017 - 15:22

    Hi, I hope you are feeling better today after your message last night. How many weeks pregnant are you and are the pains coming and going or are they there constantly? It may be the start of labour, but I can't confirm without more information. Perhaps you could arrange to see your midwife if you are unsure and would like some reassurance. Best of luck

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 9 Jul 2017 - 13:11

    Hi,am 37weeks pregnant, I don't walk with ease,heart burn @ its peak,pains in my lower abdomen,recently felt a sharp pain very fierce in my vagina,could be early signs of labour?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Jul 2017 - 15:56

    Hi, The end of pregnancy is nearly there! Pain in your vagina is not generally a sign of labour, but we always take pain in your abdomen seriously. When are you seeing the midwife or GP again and has your pregnancy been normal so far? Why not make an appointment to be checked out or call your maternity department for advise. Best wishes and keep well. Tommy's midwives

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 2 Jul 2017 - 15:47

    Hi guy i am 31 weeks pregnant bt i have some pains that i cant tell its been a week now

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 3 Jul 2017 - 15:31

    Hi. If you have abdominal pain at 31 weeks please call your maternity unit or midwife for advice. Best wishes

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 2 Jun 2017 - 02:16

    I am 36 weeks ad having dis pinky discharge dat look like blood ad waist pain is it dat I will deliver very soon

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 2 Jun 2017 - 10:18

    Thank you for your comment
    If you are having a discharge that looks like blood and also having pain then you should contact your midwife or maternity unit as soon as possible for advice-they may ask that you come to the hospital for further checks.
    You are less than 37 weeks pregnant so it's possible you could be in early premature labour,
    I have attached some links with more information for you-

    Please contact us or call Tommy's PregnancyLine 0800 0147 800
    for further advice

    Tommy's Midwife

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 28 Apr 2017 - 13:21


    I am 40 weeks according to the scan I took and now I have some pains they feel like strong period pains they come and go after 30 minutes. I am not sure whether its false alert or labour pains because they started at around 3am this morning

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 28 Apr 2017 - 16:16

    It sounds like it could be your body starting to prepare for labour. The pains are usually quite irregular and far apart when they first start, and they can also come and go. This can go on for several days, stopping and starting. If you are getting pains that are about 2-3 in ten minutes, if you think your waters have broken, you have any constant pain or concerns about your baby's movements then it is important to contact your maternity unit to be reviewed.

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 11 Mar 2017 - 15:10

    Hello I have abdomen pain and back pain since morning I don't know what is it

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 13 Mar 2017 - 10:37

    Hello and sorry not to get back to you sooner. We are not available for urgent questions at the weekend as we are here only Monday - Friday 9-5pm. I hope that you have been able to find help at your local maternity unit and that you are well.

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 9 Mar 2017 - 11:06

    I am 36 week pregnant ,my stomach Remains Very Hard From The Last Two Months .earlier The Doctor Said It Was Due To Not Of Adequate Liquor .but Now The liquor Is Also Adequate .ultrasound Report Said Everything Is Ok.but I Feel Problem In Walking and Sitting Due To Hardening Of Stomach.sometime I Do Not Sleep Whole Night Due To This.can U Tell Me what Was The Reason Behind It.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 9 Mar 2017 - 11:25

    Hi The 'hardening of your stomach' is most likely due to Braxton hicks which are described as practice contractions and are entirely normal. Braxton hicks contractions are not painful. Some babies are more active at night which can stop you sleeping but there are some suggestions to help you get comfortable on our link
    Good to hear that the doctors are happy with everything. Best wishes

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 2 Mar 2017 - 19:39

    Iam 39weeks pregnant i discharge a pinkish brown and cramping for every 15mins.. am i in a labor now.please help me.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 3 Mar 2017 - 15:44

    Hello. I hope that you are well and that you have already found some help. Our site is not available for urgent enquires and we are here only on Monday to Friday 9-5pm
    If you still have the same symptoms I would recommend contacting your maternity unit for advice asap. Or maybe you have delivered already? If so I hope all is well. Best wishes

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 10 Feb 2017 - 14:08

    Hi again sorry to be a pain but I posted the other day about feeling really bad and irritable. Well it's getting worse I have my midwife in the morning tomorrow but I just don't want to eat I'm struggling to keep drinking aswell I'm still having irregular cramping pains like braxtons hicks. I'm not sleeping much for the last two nights just can not get comfy anywhere. I just don't know what to do.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Feb 2017 - 16:09

    Please do not be sorry we are here to help and support you. I am unsure where your other post is however I am sorry to hear you are feeling so rubbish. It is great that you are seeing a midwife tomorrow, it is important to talk to her about how you are feeling at the moment. If you can try just drinks sips of water and snack on light foods that can help. I assume that you are more than 37 weeks pregnant, if you are less than this then I think you need to contact your maternity unit for review. Please monitor your baby's movements and if you notice any change or reduction then again please contact your maternity unit as soon as possible, also if your waters break or you have any bleeding. Try relax in a warm bath or shower too, that can help for some. Take care

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 19 Oct 2016 - 06:22

    iam 40week pregnant , now a days my breast was very smoother and small?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 19 Oct 2016 - 14:31

    Hello Anvitha, are you concerned about your breasts not being large enough to feed your baby? I'm not sure whether this is your question but the size of breasts rarely affects ability to breastfeed.
    Please do get in contact again if you need more information.
    Tommy's Midwives

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 25 Jun 2016 - 09:37

    i have lower back for few days and cramps I'm not sure what's happening

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