Symptoms of labour

From contractions to your waters breaking, these are the typical signs that your body is getting ready for labour.

Signs of labour

  1. Backache and pains that feel like period pains
  2. Contractions that last for longer than 30 seconds and are getting stronger over time. They may be strong enough that you'll need something for the pain.
  3. Contractions coming every five minutes.
  4. Your waters breaking - you'll feel a gush or trickle of liquid coming from your vagina. If you're not sure whether your waters have broken put a panty liner in your underpants. If it gets wet quickly, that's a sure sign that your waters have broken.
  5. A small amount of blood or mucus on your underwear. This is called a show and often happens some time before labour begins. Taken alone, it's not necessarily a sign that labour has started.

What do contractions feel like?

Your early contractions may feel a bit like period pains and you might wonder whether they are just more Braxton Hicks contractions. Sometimes women feel pain in their back and thighs instead of, or as well as, pain in the front of their bump.

During a contraction your tummy will feel hard as the muscles of your womb tense and work to gradually open up your cervix and push your baby out. As labour goes on, the contractions will become more intense. Your muscles will relax after each one and the pain will fade.

What if my waters break?

The bag of amniotic fluid surrounding your baby is most likely to break after your contractions have started. Sometimes, though, this happens before labour begins. You'll hear this called the 'waters breaking' or you may hear midwives referring to the bag as 'the membranes'.

When your waters break, you may get a big gush of fluid or just be aware of a gentle trickle. Once your waters have broken, ring your hospital or midwife as they might need you to go in for a check-up to monitor the baby's heartbeat and wellbeing.

If your waters are clear and your contractions haven't started yet, you'll probably be able to go home once you've been checked over. You'll normally be given a time to come back in around 24 hours to have your labour artificially started (called 'being induced') if it hasn't started naturally by then.

The reason you'll be asked to come in to have your labour induced is that once your waters have broken, bacteria can get into your womb and cause an infection. Being induced reduces this risk.

If your waters are stained brown or green, this is because the baby has passed a substance called meconium into the amniotic fluid. This is your baby's first poo! If this happens, the doctors may want to deliver your baby straight away to make sure they are OK.

Read more about what to expect when your waters break.


  1. NICE (2008) Induction of labour, Clinical guideline 70, national Institute for Health and Care Excellence, London


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More about early labour

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

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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 Kaka (not verified) on 12 Jun 2019 - 12:50

    Hello. I'm just now 31 weeks today and I have pain when I walk or move my legs any kind of way I guess the top pelvic area, lower back pain, and cramp like feelings in my lower stomach and also the nervous feeling in my stomach alot.

  • By Rita stephen (not verified) on 25 May 2019 - 20:10

    Hi i am Rita Stephen,my pregnancy is 39 weeks 1day nd i have been having lower abdominal pain nd back pain nd even contraction but not frequently,what will i do please?

  • By nestum (not verified) on 7 May 2019 - 20:36

    Hi I'm 38 weeks and really want to give birth anytime soon but I'm I don't feel any labour pains I'm really tired now

  • By Angelic (not verified) on 6 May 2019 - 22:58

    I went to the bathroom yesterday to urinate. And when I was finished I wiped myself dry.And after it I heard a very loud pop noise it sounded like when you open a bottle that kind of loud pop noise what's it

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 3 May 2019 - 01:24

    I have been having back pains, hip pains, and nausea and am 38 week and 1 day

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 14 Mar 2019 - 03:44

    I'm suffering lower abdomen pain from last 3 days I'm very tensed pls tell me why this pain will come?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 20 Mar 2019 - 10:26

    Hi, it sounds like your body is trying to get you to go into labour, so please go into your local maternity unit to be checked over today! Any episode of abdominal pain, needs to be reviewed by a midwife and doctor as soon as possible. Take care, Tommy's Midwife

  • By zamira (not verified) on 12 Feb 2019 - 19:22

    i have been trying to get labor to start on its own but nothing seems to work, not feeling much of anything, except leg cramps when i walk....what to do?

  • By Emma Dube (not verified) on 30 Nov 2018 - 21:54

    Hi I'm 33+1 just getting over the norovirus was admitted on fluids now having quite a few pains.
    Abdo goes hard.
    Previous 36/40 delivery am I in pre term labour.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 3 Dec 2018 - 14:42

    Hi Emma, Anyone who is 33 weeks pregnant and experiencing abdominal pains should go straight to the nearest maternity unit for assessment.

  • By Grace (not verified) on 31 Oct 2018 - 08:58

    I was told I’m fully engaged at my 36 weeks midwife appointment.
    Since Saturday I have had a lot of back pain and period like cramps. The last two nights I haven’t slept with tightening in my stomach.
    Really loose bowels & a pink tinged urine when I wiped yesterday.. any help?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 5 Nov 2018 - 11:37

    Hi Grace
    It sounds like you need to go into be seen in the hospital labour ward/triage/day assessment unit.
    You could be in early labour- but abdominal pain and pink bleeding on wiping needs to be reviewed. They will also want to check in on baby via CTG monitoring
    So please take yourself in to be seen if you have not already done so.
    All the best
    Tommy's Midwife

  • By Kim (not verified) on 13 Oct 2018 - 16:12

    Im 36 weeks today and for the past 2 hours i have been having painfulish braxton hicks every 8-10 minutes should i be worried? Baby is 3/5th engaged i was told at an appointment on friday and ive had a big increase in discharge this past few weeks and quite a few episodes of damp patches in my underwear sorry for tmi, i should add that im having an elcs so i were to go in to labour early im not sure if i should ring the maternity unit or just wait on

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 17 Oct 2018 - 15:50

    Hi Kim
    If you have not already, please call your maternity unit and go into be reviewed in view of the regular contractions and the query over if your waters have broken or not with the damp patches in your underwear. This is very important as your baby is at risk of infection if the waters are broken for over 24 hrs.
    Please be seen asap if you have not already!
    Tommy's Midwife

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 14 Sep 2017 - 21:07

    Hi I'm 32 weeks an 4 days now have been experiencing tightenings most of the day and cramps in lower abdomen. Now I'm having sharp shooting pains in my cervix. Am I in premature labour?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 18 Sep 2017 - 10:18

    Hi, it is very difficult to say what is happening without further information. I would strongly recommend that you call your midwife or maternity unit to discuss the pains that you are experiencing to see if you need to go in to be checked over.

  • By mary (not verified) on 7 Sep 2017 - 21:10

    am having tommy bite every day,slight pain too under my tommy and sometimes back west pain.i am 36 weeks.what does dis mean?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 8 Sep 2017 - 15:36

    Hi, it is very difficult to say what is happening without further information. I would strongly recommend that you call your midwife or maternity unit to discuss the pains that you are experiencing to see if you need to go in to be checked over.

  • By Mmapula (not verified) on 15 Mar 2019 - 05:43

    I have back pain n neusea but my water hasn't broke can I go to hospital?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 20 Mar 2019 - 10:53

    Hi Mmapula- I feel that you should go into be seen, as you may have a UTI causing you the back pain, which may need antibiotic treatment. If not, you could be in very early labour, which back pain can be a sign of.
    So please be seen today. All the best, Tommy's Midwife

  • By Lucie (not verified) on 9 Feb 2017 - 22:10

    Hey I'm 38weeks +4 my grandad passed away Monday night and my due date is the 20th of this month I'm so scared that I'll go into labour the day before or on the day of his fruneral we haven't got a set date for fruneral yet but my family say it will be with in a weeks time I'm worried I won't be able to make it due to it being so close to my due date I would be so dissapointed with myself if I couldn't go my family keep saying don't worry what will be will be but I really want to be there any advise on what I could do

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 10 Feb 2017 - 11:38


    I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your granddad. I am afraid there is little by the way of predicting when you will go into labour or having control over this. You would not be offered an induction of labour before your due date unless there is an obstetric or medical reason to do so. Try not to be hard on yourself or worry too much. Sorry I am unable to help more, take care.

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 8 Feb 2017 - 10:20

    Thank you for your post. I'm sorry to hear that you are in so much pain. I would go to your local maternity unit this morning and be assessed as it may be that you are going into labour a little early (term pregnancy is 37-42 weeks) and you and your baby need to be checked out. Please let us know how you get on.
    Warmest wishes from Tommy's Midwives

  • By Kate (not verified) on 8 Feb 2017 - 06:51

    My show has come away, im 35 weeks got sharp barable pain in my cervix i have pressure in my pelvis lower back pain also in my hips and in struggling to walk?

  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 18 Jun 2016 - 13:01

    Yes,the information is good and perfect ok

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