Going into labour – the signs of labour

You’re likely to know once labour starts, but if you’re not sure talk to your midwife (or specialist doctor). Find out about the signs of labour and what you may feel as labour starts.

Going into labour
Going into labour

Labour and birth are different for everyone – and they’re different each time too. Women – and their partners – can be quite worried, especially the first time. You’ll learn a lot from other mothers, talking to your midwife (or specialist doctor) and going to classes about pregnancy, birth and parenting. Here are a few things to know.

Only about 1 in 20 women goes into labour or has her baby on the date that she is ‘due’. Most times the labour starts some time between 1 week before the due date and 2 weeks after it (being ‘overdue’ means that you are more than 2 weeks after the due date).

For many women with their first baby, the start of labour is a gradual thing that lasts for hours – and it may be a stop-and-start thing over several days.

You usually have time to talk to your midwife (or specialist doctor) and you don’t have to dash to hospital straight away like in the movies!

The signs of labour

There are many signs of labour; here are a few.

  • You get cramps low down in your tummy like period pain, or pain in your lower back (see Contractions).
  • A tablespoon of blood or brown-coloured, sticky mucus comes out of your vagina (a ‘show’ – see The show).
  • You leak fluid that you think is wee/mimi but it’s from your vagina, and it smells different from wee/mimi (see Your waters break).

The only definite sign that you are in labour is having regular contractions.

Your midwife (or specialist doctor) may talk about ‘established labour’. This means that the neck of your womb (the cervix) has started to open and is 3–4 cm wide and you are getting regular contractions.

The stages of labour

Midwives and doctors often talk about three stages of what’s happening to your body and your baby in labour. The first stage is when the neck of the womb stretches to let baby out. The second or pushing stage is when baby is born. And the third stage is when the whenua/afterbirth (placenta) comes out. Labour feels different for each woman. 

Related website

Signs that labour has begun – NHS Choices (UK)
Information about the signs of labour.

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