Signs Of Labour – 7 Signs You May Be In Labour

Signs Of Labour - 7 Signs You May Be In Labour

Are you eagerly awaiting any signs of labour, so you know labour has begun or is imminent?

It’s such an exciting time.

You’ve been patiently (or perhaps impatiently!) waiting for nine long months. Finally, your baby could be here any day now!

Bear in mind that full term pregnancy is the period between 37 to 42 weeks.

Only 3-5% of babies are born on their estimated due date.

Around 40% of babies are born in the two weeks before their estimated due date, and another 40% are born in the two weeks after.

Some women may experience no signs of labour, and should discuss a plan of action if they reach 42 weeks of pregnancy.

But let’s get right into it – what signs of labour might you notice?

Signs Of Labour #1 – Spontaneous Rupture of Membranes (SROM)

Commonly known as the ‘breaking of the waters’, this happens when the amniotic sac (the fluid-filled sac which surrounds the baby) ruptures.

The fluid may come out as a trickle, a small gush of water, or perhaps an enormous flood.

Some women also notice a ‘popping’ sensation as their waters break.

This is the first sign of labour for around 15-25% of women – it’s not as common as the movies would have you believe!

If you suspect your waters have broken, pop a pad on — do not use tampons — and call your midwife or doctor.

Some indicators that your waters that have broken are:

  • You have no control over the flow
  • A panty liner is inadequate to absorb the fluid
  • The pad is wet more than once
  • It doesn’t smell like urine

Read more about What To Do When Your Waters Break.

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Signs Of Labour #2 – Contractions

Regular contractions are a good indicator of labour.

Early labour contractions usually feel like period pain, or you might experience a lower backache at 20 to 30 minute intervals.

Sometimes these pains radiate from back to front, or vice versa.

There’s no need to start timing the contractions straight away – if your contractions are mild, try to ignore them.

Labour contractions tend to come at irregular intervals at first, but usually become more regular – this is why it helps to ignore early contractions.

It avoids unnecessary disappointment and anxiety when the contractions aren’t progressing as you hoped.

It is possible to experience contractions without your cervix dilating.

You could still be in pre-labour, rather than established labour if:

  • Your contractions are irregular
  • The contractions aren’t increasingly stronger
  • A change in position, massage, walking, eating or drinking relieves or stops the contractions
  • The contractions are short or may last several minutes

Labour contractions will:

  • Not stop or slow down, regardless of frequency and your activity
  • Be in a fairly predictable pattern (e.g. every eight minutes although some women have regular contractions every 5-10 minutes throughout)
  • Become increasingly closer together
  • Last longer
  • Become stronger (walking usually makes them stronger)
  • Build up, have a peak, then reduce

Find out more in our article What Do Contractions Feel Like?

Signs Of Labour #3 – Mucus Plug / ‘Bloody’ Show

As your cervix begins to dilate (open), the thick mucus plug which sealed off your cervix during pregnancy (to prevent infection reaching the baby) might come loose.

This can then partially or wholly discharge from your vagina.

The mucus plug might be watery or sticky and jelly-like in appearance. Sometimes it has a brown, pink or red tinge to it.

The show might occur over several days and can sometimes appear up to two weeks before labour starts.

Most women who notice their show will go into labour over the following few days.

Find out more in our article, The Mucus Plug During Pregnancy

Signs Of Labour #4 – Involuntary Shivering

Even if you are not cold, you might experience shivering or trembling in early labour.

The same thing can happen during or after birth, and can be frightening if you aren’t sure why it’s happening.

It’s simply your body’s way of relieving tension and usually lasts only a few minutes.

You can help by doing something relaxing, like deep breathing, or a having a warm shower or massage.

Holding your breath to the count of 5 several times consecutively can also stop the shivers.

Another little trick to try is to count backwards in threes from 20: ’20, 17, 14, 11…’

Signs Of Labour #5 – Lightening

When your baby has dropped and settled deeper into your pelvis, you might notice that you can breathe more easily than before.

This is because pressure on your diaphragm has been relieved. As pay-back, though, you might feel more pressure on your bladder, which means more trips to the bathroom!

Others around you might be first to notice that baby has dropped. You might not even realise that your tummy has changed in appearance.

Some women don’t experience ‘lightening’ at all and that’s fine.

If your baby doesn’t drop, it doesn’t mean you won’t go into labour or baby won’t fit. Some good contractions will help with that!

Signs Of Labour #6 – Diarrhoea

In the days prior to birth, the hormone prostaglandin will stimulate your bowels to open more frequently.

As labour approaches, you might notice diarrhoea, as your body empties your bowels to make way for baby.

Some women will pass stools during labour. This often goes unnoticed, as midwives quickly attend to it.

Check out our article if you’re anxious about pooping during labour.

Signs Of Labour #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.

Some women don’t feel any Braxton Hicks contractions throughout pregnancy, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t.

It doesn’t mean labour is any further away.

To distinguish Braxton Hicks from labour contractions, note the points from ‘Signs Of Labour #2 – Contractions’, above.

What Should I Do In Early Labour?

Don’t forget to check out our article Early Labour Tips & Suggestions for some ideas on how to help early labour pass more quickly!

The main thing is to play it down, keep things normal and ignore any contractions if you can.

When Should I Go To Hospital?

You might feel unsure about when to go into hospital once early labour begins.

There might be pressure from overexcited family members or friends who can’t wait to meet your baby.

Even your own excitement can take over, and you might think the sooner you get to hospital, the sooner you’ll have your baby.

Sometimes going to hospital early can have exactly the opposite effect, and you end up with a longer or a medical labour.

It’s a very common story. Mothers-to-be going into hospital during early labour, only to find their contractions have slowed down or completely stopped.

Being in a strange or different environment with so many interruptions can do this, even for women who have been having regular contractions every five minutes.

The anxiety and adrenaline can counter the efforts of labour hormone, oxytocin.

The flight or fight response raises your adrenaline level, slowing things down until you are in a ‘safe place’.

Stopping normal activity and going into the hospital too early removes a great deal of useful distractions that can help pass time while labour gets going.

Once You Arrive At Hospital

Once you arrive in hospital, your activities are restricted compared to being at home.

You might even feel the need to stay in the hospital bed, which can slow things down and make contractions more painful.

There isn’t much room to walk around either, which isn’t helpful.

Restricting movement makes it more difficult for baby to move through your pelvis, and labour may last even longer as a result.

Find out more about the benefits of birthing upright.

Most hospitals will prefer to send you home if you are in early labour, but some might offer you the opportunity to stay.

Usually women want to stay because of the effort of coming in, and sometimes due to feeling embarrassed leaving without a baby.

It can also be disappointing to go home without a babe in arms, especially if you’ve already told family and friends.

At this point, you might feel more inclined to accept a medical induction or augmentation, which can result in a more painful labour and add risk to what could have been a normal birth.

To read more about the risk of inductions, see our article here.

If your waters have broken, when you’re expected to go into hospital varies greatly according to hospital policy.

Some facilities will ask you to come in straight away. Others will tell you to wait until contractions are well established, and quite likely you’ll be asked to call or come in no longer than 24 hours later.

Some will want to stimulate your labour artificially – either straight away, or after a wait of up to 96 hours, possibly with antibiotics in case of infection.

In most cases, hospitals like you to call when your waters have broken.

But you should find out what their protocols are prior to labour beginning.

Go To Hospital Immediately If You:

  • Are bleeding
  • Have broken your waters and the fluid is green, brown, yellow or anything other than clear or pink
  • Notice your baby isn’t moving
  • Feel something is wrong
  • Can’t stop vomiting
  • Have unbearable pain
  • Want to push

Don’t Go To Hospital Until, or Unless:

  • You have spoken to a midwife first
  • Your waters break
  • It’s your first baby and you are feeling slight bowel pressure
  • It’s your second baby and you are wondering why you are doing this again
  • You’ve run out of coping strategies or hot water at home and need more help
  • You are having good 5-minute-apart contractions
  • Peak traffic will be a problem if you wait

What Early Signs Of Labour Might I Expect?

BellyBelly fans recall what the first signs of labour were for them.

Early Labour With No Previous Signs

“Almost a week before my estimated due date, I experienced my very first signs of labour. It felt like period pain, and gradually got stronger. I was convinced it was actual labour, because I felt no Braxton Hicks or niggles prior to then. After taking a shower, the sensations started coming closer together. I went to bed after calling the hospital – they suggested staying home longer while I was comfortable. In the middle of the night, I woke with every contraction, and dashed to the toilet. I had the biggest urge to pee and empty my bowels with each contraction, it was so strange! It would only be small amounts, but it was such an uncontrollable urge to go. The next day, my labour ended up stalling in hospital at 5 centimetres dilated. I had the drip (synthetic hormones) which I didn’t like one bit.”

A Fast And Fabulous Labour

“My waters broke on the morning of December 1st 2005 and I had no pain whatsoever. I went through the day willing contractions to come on but none did! Emotionally I decided that today was the day, and I wanted baby here. I even told my dad the baby would be here that day, I was so sure of it! I spent the day eating pineapple, and doing nipple stimulation (which worked I think) and finally at 7pm I had the worst contraction I’d ever had. We popped the TENS machine on and went to the hospital. Coco was born exactly an hour and 54 minutes later. It was fabulous, fast and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Slow And Steady Labour

“My first labour started off as a show, two days before I was due. We went into hospital to get checked out. I was 2 centimetres dilated and could either go home or stay. Even though I wasn’t having any contractions yet, I chose to stay and my husband went home. The time by myself was really good. I just relished my time alone and surprisingly I was very relaxed (mind you, contractions hadn’t started yet). It gave me time to go over my thoughts about the birth. When contractions did start, they started off slowly and gradually built up, getting closer. It was only after my waters broke that I suppose I panicked a bit. I didn’t think I could do it and that I wasn’t strong enough. But I got through that moment with some hugs and lots of positive words from my husband.”

A Long Pre-Labour And A VBAC

“I had pre-labour for about a week before active labour began. It was pretty exhausting, having constant niggles that didn’t go away, but never really reached a level where I thought it was time to go. I went in for check-ups, and the electronic monitoring was picking up the tightenings, which were irregular. On the day before William was born, I found that I couldn’t keep still. My midwife said she knew I’d be back later! I went into the hospital when I couldn’t sleep through the tightenings anymore. I also had an unusually heavy show (I was having a VBAC). As it turned out, I laboured all day with very little progress. Then within half an hour, I went from 2cm to fully dilated, so I wasn’t in what was considered ‘active labour’, even though I was contracting 2 minutely for 45 seconds for most of the day.”

This article includes contributions from midwife, Brenda Manning MIPP.

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Kelly Winder CONTRIBUTOR

Kelly Winder is the creator of BellyBelly.com.au, a writer, doula (trained in 2005), and a mother of three awesome children. She's passionate about informing and educating fellow thinking parents and parents-to-be, especially about all the things she wishes she knew before she had her firstborn. Kelly is also passionate about travel, tea, travel, and animal rights and welfare. And travel.


30 comments

  1. This site is awesome.I just feel at home.I have been made to understand alot of issues that have to do with signs of labour. God bless you all.

  2. I was going to share on my FB wall but decided not to when I saw the spelling mistake of diarrhea. I’d never hear the end of it 😉 Otherwise, it’s a wonderful article… thank you for posting.

    1. It is not a misspelling. In the UK and in some of the countries currently or formerly associated with Britain some Latin and Greek words retain the original diphthong whereas other areas such as the USA do not. For instance diarrhoea vs. diarrhea, faeces vs. feces. Strictly speaking BOTH spellings are 100% correct.

  3. hi this is my 4th baby but I have for got most things about labour I have been getting pain all night and still get them now so I have been in the bath and when i got out and dry myself they was some kind of jelly .dose
    that mean i am in labour

  4. I am curious if dirreaha is normal the last week of pregnancy. I have it and now i am starting to have back pain but i don’t want to rush out the door just yet.

    1. It can be an early labour sign but you could also have an upset tummy – how long have you have it for? If it’s been a few days, make sure you’re drinking water to rehydrate (ideally with electrolytes in it). Don’t bother with sports drinks, they’re full of sugar.

  5. It was just in time reading this article to get conscious.it’s my third pregnancy after 9 years.i am already 41wks old and thought of inducing in the days ahead.thanks to this i have changed my mind

  6. this what is happening am having diarrhea but am not due of wich am confused also havin backpains and I feel the baby lower what could be really going on

  7. this site has make me to understand many things about signs of labour. soon am going to experience that for the first time. Thanks to you all.

  8. Definitely don’t wait for your water to break to go to the hospital if you have all the other symptoms of active, progressing labor! It’s not unusual for the amniotic sac to stay intact until transition or even later. Mine had to be broken as baby’s head was about to crown.

  9. This site really helps me a lot I understand everything and its make me fell more ready and confident thank you very much

  10. Good signs for labour! But with my first my labour started every 3 minutes for 4 hrs it stopped it started again for 2 hours stopped then they had to brake my waters and I had my little boy! My little girl my labor started on the Sunday arvo was in pain from 3-8 contractions wasn’t regular but was very painful and was lasting 1-2 minutes I knew I was in labour but my labour stopped, I was in hard labour at 4am the next morning, when my water broke at the hospital my contractions completely stopped, because I was 10cm dilated I could push without the contractions, my little girl was born at 7:06am that morning! My point being if you don’t feel right get checked out, all the midwives and Drs said my labours are strange, but it does happen. Good luck!

    1. I’m 36 weeks now and I’m in so much discomfort and I was already in the hospital for a whole weeks because I was having contraction as out I was in active labor, but then it stopped and I let the hospital at 2.5 centimetres, I’m having contractions now with much discomfort but I’m uncertain if I should wait a little longer, or because I already dilated some I should go now, just to be sure!! Because now it’s starting to feel weird!

  11. Love this article, made me feel much more relaxed, I’m 37 weeks & 3 days, Im having quite a few of these symptoms right now & in the last few days, it’s great to know all the different types of symptoms other mums to be have experienced, very relate-able

  12. Am 40weeks. First time mom. I have been having back pains for the Past one week. Then today have had sharp right side back pain the whole day at unknown intervals which I ignored. But an hour ago have had back pains that come and go every 20min. And my vagina feels heavy and painful. My stomach tightens when the back pain comes. At some intervals am also having lower belly cramps for say 30 seconds. Would I be in labour?

  13. I don’t understand why all online advice assumes everyone will be delivering naturally. After going through an emergency c-section last time, I have opted for a planned c-section this time. Of course, the baby could arrive before the planned date, and I want to know when I should present at a hospital for a c-section if before the scheduled date. However once again the advice is for labour (i.e don’t present until your contractions are x minutes apart). Why would someone planning a c-section want to go through labour? I’d love at least one article to provide some advice for the many women planning a c-section, to not miss the early signs of labour so as not to have to labour unnnecessarily.

    1. Most people still have natural vagina labors. Also I think most women don’t plan on having a c-section the first time around unless they have to fit some medical reason and articles like this are usually meant for first time moms that don’t know what he sins of labor are yet.. what kind of advice were you looking for in this article if you’re already planning a c-section anyhow?

      1. That is completely false. Many women who had cesarian sections the first time do not know what labour is like when they are about to have their second

        1. You right! Same here ,I really didn’t go into labour or rather xperienced it with my first….i had c-section….but with my second I believe I should know more…cos m abit nervous.

      2. I am a ftm, and I am having a planned Cesarean due to my baby girl being breeched. It is still good to know what the signs are in case you can go to the hospital ahead of time but it is still a little weird since I never knew contractions can stop or slow down at the hospital. It is all weird and on its own, but a third of women get C-sections so that is a pretty high number. I don’t personally want to labor and then undergo a serious abdominal surgery either. Hoping only one happens.

  14. I saw a brownish discharge since 6:50am and I feel a little pain in the lower back and lower front…..the pain comes and goes …….does it mean I am in labour???

  15. My due date is on the 28th of this month, but I was induced without my conent on 22nd by my traditional midwife who gives me herbal meds out of greed so that I can deliver at her place instead of delivering at the hospital I registered (Cos she knew that was going to be my last visit). Though I didn’t know what she had done, she insisted I pass the night at her place to be monitored. Hours later i started feeling painful cramps (still don’t know how contractions feels like, so I don’t know what to call d pain), she checked me and said I was dilating nd that it was already 2cm.

    After much argument she allowed me go to the hospital I register. At the hospital I was told that I wasn’t dilating and that was when I also found out that the lady tried to induce me. Thank God I didn’t pass the night there else, she would have tried to induce me over nd over again till labor starts. Though i was told at the hospital that the induction failed and that my baby’s heartbeat was okay and that the pains will eventually go away but I can’t help but worry about the effects of failed induction or if there would be complications later on. However, I’m still in pains but not as worse as before and I noticed my baby’s movement has reduced which has got me worried.

    Now I’m confuse and scared as my system has changed since the induction, now I can’t even tell if contraction starts cos of d pains I’m still feeling and also I’m scared as my baby’s movement has reduced since den (2 days now). Pls I need your advice

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