Symptoms of labour

Every labour is different but there are some common signs that your body is getting ready for labour, including contractions and waters breaking

There are several signs that labour may be starting, including:

  • a ‘show’, which happens when the mucus plug from your cervix (the entrance to your womb) comes away, which is when the mucus plug from your cervix comes away – it appears as a pink-brown jelly-like blob or in pieces. On its own this doesn’t mean that labour has started
  • pains that feel like strong period pains – 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 breaking.

The start of labour is called the latent phase. This is when your cervix becomes soft and thin as it gets ready to open up (dilate) for your baby to be born.

Call your midwife or maternity unit if:

  • your waters break
  • you're bleeding
  • your baby is moving less than usual you should continue to feel your baby move right up to the time you go into labour and during labour).
  • you're less than 37 weeks pregnant and think you might be in labour

You will need to see a midwife or doctor if you experience any of these.

What do contractions feel like?

Your early contractions may feel a bit like period pains and, if you’ve had them you might wonder whether they are just more Braxton Hicks contractions.

During a contraction, your tummy will feel hard as the muscles of your womb tense and work to gradually open 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.

“For me, early labour felt like mild period pains, aching in my tummy and lower back that would come and then disappear again. The pain increased in frequency for a few hours and then the intensity increased rather suddenly which wasn’t what I expected. I thought it would be more gradual.”


In the latent phase of labour, your contractions may stop and start and vary in frequency, strength and length. You may get lots of regular contractions and then they may slow down or stop completely.

Once established labour has started, your contractions will become more regular and won't stop. 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 are having a home birth, the midwife will come to you.

What if my waters break?

Your baby develops inside a bag of fluid called the amniotic sac. When your baby is ready to be born, the sac breaks and the fluid comes out through your vagina. This is your waters breaking.

If you experience the following, your waters may have broken:

  • a popping sensation followed by a gush or trickle of fluid
  • an unusual amount of dampness in your underwear that doesn’t smell like urine
  • uncontrollable leaking of small or large amounts of fluid from the vagina that doesn’t smell like urine.

 Tell your midwife or hospital immediately if:

  • the waters are smelly or coloured
  • you're losing blood.

This could mean you and your baby need urgent attention.

Your waters may break before you go to hospital (if that’s where you plan to give birth) but they are more likely to break during labour. Your midwife may break your waters for you to speed up your labour. This is known as artificial rupture of membranes (ARM).

Once the waters have broken, your baby is at risk of infection, so contact your midwife, hospital or birth centre. They will probably ask you to come into hospital to be checked if you’re not there already. Find out more about your waters breaking.



NHS Choices. Signs that labour has begun. (Page last reviewed: 09/11/2017 Next review due: 011/2020)

Hide details

More about early labour

Last reviewed on July 26th, 2019. Next review date July 26th, 2022.

Was this information useful?

Yes No


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 Praise (not verified) on 13 Sep 2019 - 04:50

    I have seen mixture of catarrh and blood ,having lower abdominal pains and little back pain too comes and go but not much what do I do ma

  • By Zaina (not verified) on 13 Sep 2019 - 04:00

    Hi am 39 weeks and 3 days feeling pain in my lower abdomen mostly when I lay down and try to get up just now I was laying down and the pain starts after which it stops and I felt my baby moving is this a sign of labor please I need advice

  • By Ashley (not verified) on 12 Aug 2019 - 23:15

    Today I’m 39 weeks and 6 days
    I’ve been trying to start labor by myself by walking , eating pineapple and sex and nothing is working /: last Tuesday my doctor checked and said I was 1cm dilated earlier this morning I was having lower back pain and just now I found a mediumish spot on my underwear and it’s a dry texture , and I know it’s not discharge I think it’s blood , what do I do ? Or what does it mean?

  • By Midwife @Tommys on 14 Aug 2019 - 15:39

    HI Ashley, if you have not already done so, please go into your local maternity unit for review by a midwife and obstetric doctor. It may be part of your SHOW, but its best to check this.
    Please take care, Tommy's Midwife

  • By Brianna (not verified) on 2 Jul 2019 - 11:26

    I am 39 weeks and 4 days already 3 cm dilated I woke up and my panties where real wet I changed and used the bathroom. I woke up and had a little bit of fluid on my panties and having pelvic contractions. Am I in labor?

  • By Joy (not verified) on 20 Jun 2019 - 12:38

    Hello, i dont understand what im feeling. Ive been feeling pain in my tummy and back but dis appear immediately and get back when im about to pee or even when babybis moving the pain in my tummy is appearing again. Is this a sign of labor? Or not yet.?

  • By Kaylianna Hartley (not verified) on 15 Jun 2019 - 22:04

    I have had trickles for the last 10 mins has my waters broken as its damp patches on my underwear tmi sorry

  • 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

Add new comment