Symptoms of labour

Typical signs that your body is getting ready for labour.

Woman holding her back in discomfort.
  • Backache and pains that feel like period pains
  • 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.
  • Contractions coming every five minutes.
  • Your waters breaking - you'll feel a gush or trickle of liquid coming from your vagina.
  • 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.

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.

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.


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


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

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

    Yes,the information is good and perfect ok

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