Symptoms of labour

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.

Sources

  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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Comments

  • 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 Anonymous (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 Anonymous (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

    Hi,

    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 Anonymous (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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