If you are late in your last trimester of pregnancy, you are probably eagerly awaiting any sign of labour.
So what might you notice in early labour?
Be sure to read our list below if you’d like to know what the signs of labour are.
Some women might experience just some of these early labour signs, or none of them.
If you reach 42 weeks and the early signs of labour you’ve experienced haven’t developed into real labour, you should discuss a plan of action with your health care provider.
Signs of labour approaching
You might wonder whether you will experience false labour before the real thing starts.
Also known as prelabour, false labour is when your body starts to gear up for the main event, which is early and active labour. But there’s nothing pretend about false labour, even though it might take some time to progress.
When you reach 37 weeks you might start to experience some labour signs. Over time, labour progresses from mild signs to more intense and obvious ones you can’t mistake.
Here are some early signs of labour that could indicate spontaneous labour is just a few hours away.
#1: Spontaneous rupture of membranes (SROM)
Commonly known as the ‘breaking of the waters’, this happens when the amniotic sac (which surrounds the baby) ruptures, resulting in amniotic fluid trickling or gushing from your vagina.
Waters breaking is the first sign of labour in around 1o% of labours, before contractions begin. When your waters break, you might notice a small gush of waters; sometimes it can be an enormous flood. Some women also notice a ‘popping’ sensation as their waters break.
Amniotic fluid can leak for days; even after the sac has broken, the fluid will still be replenished.
If you suspect your waters have broken, pop a pad on (don’t use tampons) and call your healthcare provider for professional medical advice. You will be asked a few questions to help determine what has happened.
It might have been a bladder leak, but don’t feel embarrassed if this is the case, as it’s quite common in the latter stages of pregnancy.
If you think your waters have broken, stay calm and read Leaking Amniotic Fluid – Signs, Causes And Treatment to find out what you should do.
Contracting at regular intervals is a good indicator that you’re in labour. In the early stages of labour, irregular contractions usually feel like period pain. They are usually short lasting, like menstrual cramps, and they’ll get progressively longer.
You might experience lower backache at irregular intervals. Sometimes these pains radiate from back to front, or vice versa.
There is no need to start timing contractions straight away; if they are mild contractions, ignore them. If you feel there has been progress with early contractions – for example, they are getting stronger, longer and closer together – then time 5 contractions and see how they’re panning out. Time another 5 when you feel there has been further progress.
To time your contractions, count how many seconds there are between the start and the end of the contraction. You can also time how long it is between contractions by counting the number of minutes between the start of one contraction and the start of the next contraction.
Contractions-Everything You Need To Know will help you understand how your uterus works at the different stages.
#3: Mucus plug
In the early stages of labour, your cervix begins to dilate (open), and the thick mucus plug that sealed it off during pregnancy might come loose and partially or wholly discharge from your vagina.
It could be watery or sticky and jelly-like in appearance, and sometimes it has a brown, pink or red tinge to it. Some describe it as looking like a blob of semen. It could be as big as a 50 cent coin or larger.
The mucus plug might come out over several days and sometimes you can lose your plug up to two weeks before labour starts.
Most women who notice the mucus plug will go into labour some time in the following few days. Some women won’t notice the plug at all until they are in established labour.
You can read more about it in Mucus Plug- Interesting Facts About Losing The Mucus Plug.
#4: Involuntary shivering
Even if you aren’t cold, you might experience shivering or trembling when you’re in the early stages of labour. The same thing can happen during or after birth, and it can be frightening if you aren’t sure why your body is reacting that way.
It’s simply your body’s way of relieving tension and it usually lasts only a few minutes. Try to stay calm, and do something relaxing like having a warm shower or a massage, or by doing some deep breathing. Holding your breath to the count of 5 several times consecutively can stop the shivers. Another little trick you can try is to count backwards in threes from 20 (20, 17, 14, 11…)
When your baby drops deeper into your pelvis, you might notice you can breathe a little more easily than before. This happens because it relieves some of the pressure on your diaphragm.
On the other hand, you might then feel more pressure on your bladder, which means more trips to the bathroom.
Sometimes other people are the first to notice baby has dropped, as your tummy changes in appearance, which you might not have realized.
Some women don’t experience ‘lightening’ at all and go into labour anyway. If your baby doesn’t drop, it doesn’t mean you won’t go into labour or baby won’t fit. Some good contractions can help with that.
One of the early signs labour is near is an increased production of prostaglandin, which stimulates your bowels to open more frequently. As labour approaches, you might notice diarrhea; the body is naturally emptying the bowels to make way for baby.
A common fear among women is they’ll open their bowels during labour. You might find emptying your bowels prior to going into labour will prevent that.
Sometimes there can be some passing of stools during labour. Some women don’t even notice it. Keep in mind, though, that the midwives are used to this and it is very normal.
Anxiety in labour can slow or stall contractions, so if this is something that concerns you, have a chat with your health care provider.
Be sure to read Pooping During Labour – Is It On Your Ultimate Horrors List? to help calm any anxieties.
#7: Increased Braxton Hicks contractions
These ‘practice’ contractions which you might have felt during pregnancy can occur more frequently and be more intense and painful.
If they don’t develop into true labour contractions this is known as false labour. Some women might not feel any Braxton Hicks throughout pregnancy so don’t feel alarmed if you haven’t. It doesn’t mean labour is any further away.
Remember how to distinguish the different types of contractions: labour contractions need to be getting stronger, more regular, and closer together and they do not stop. If you pay attention to the changes in contractions you will know when active labour begins.
For more information read Braxton Hicks Contractions – What Are They?
How do you feel 24 hours before labour?
Many women say they can sense labour is approaching. Some women even feel this when they’re pregnant with their first baby.
They feel different from usual – especially at night when everything is calmer – and they’re more aware of any changes in their bodies.
Because we can’t predict the exact date active labour is going to start, you should try to rest as much as possible and watch for any symptoms and early signs of labour.
There’s more information about this in 7 Signs That Labor Is 24 to 48 Hours Away.
What should I do in early labour?
Don’t forget to check out our article Early Labor Tips & Suggestions for some ideas on how to help this stage of labour pass more quickly.
The main thing is to play things down, keep everything as normal as possible and, if the pain levels allow it, ignore any contractions you are having.
Many women go into hospital too early, because they’re anxious and concerned about coping or knowing what to do. This can disrupt the flow of hormones needed for effective contractions that lead to active labour. It can often lead to interventions or, more often, having pain relief when you didn’t intend to.
Find out more about this process in Undisturbed Labour – What Is It And Why Aim For One?