How do I know if I’m in labour?

Its normal to feel apprehensive ahead of the big day, especially if this is your first baby.

The important thing is the try and stay calm and positive. You’ve got this!

Here’s an idea of what to expect and what to do if you think you’ve started labour.

What is Braxton Hicks?

As you get closer to your due date, from around week 24, your uterus might start practicing for the main event - this is known as a ‘false labour’ or Braxton Hicks.

The sensation is a tight feeling in your back and tummy and it can feel hard to touch your bump. After 20-30 seconds it then relaxes again and goes back to normal.

This can happen a few times an hour or over the course of the day, they’re irregular and are not a sign that labour is about to start any time soon.

Don’t worry though, it isn’t painful but it can be a bit uncomfortable.

What are the early signs of labour?

Remember, your baby’s due date is just an estimate, you might go into labour 14 days either side of this date.

Here are some signs to look out for as you get closer to the big day:

  • Braxton Hicks – if you’re experiencing false labour more frequently and they’re becoming more intense.
  • Backache - many women experience back pain in their lower back as they start to go into labour.
  • A need to go to the toilet - as your baby’s head presses onto your bowel you may find that you have more frequent urges to use the toilet.
  • A “show” - during pregnancy a plug of mucus forms around your cervix, this plug comes away before labour starts and you will pass it out of your vagina. This mucus is sticky and pink and can come out in one blob or smaller pieces.
  • Contractions - at first, contractions can feel like period pains that are between 10-40 seconds long, occurring every 20 to 30 minutes. As your labour progresses, these will become more intense and frequent, occurring around every five minutes.
  • Waters breaking – just like in the movies, when your baby is ready to be born your amniotic sac will break and the clear fluid will flow from your vagina. This can be a slow trickle or a sudden gush that you can’t control.

When should I contact my midwife or hospital?

If you think you’re in labour, you should contact your midwife or healthcare provider. Regardless of the time of day (or night) you can make the call. Even if its 3am on Christmas eve, your healthcare provider will be on call and will expect the phone to ring at any time.

But remember, you might not have to rush straight to hospital unless you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Contractions are occurring every 5 minutes
  • Your waters have broken
  • Your contractions are strong and you need pain relief
  • You’re at all worried

What can I expect throughout labour?

To ease your worries, it’s good to have an idea of what to expect. You will experience all three stages of labour, each with different challenges that you will overcome.

Stage one
Regular contractions gradually open your cervix which is known as dilation. This is usually the longest stage of labour and can last several hours.

Stage two
This is when your cervix is fully dilated and your baby is born. Your midwife will help you find a comfortable position to give birth and guide you through the pushing stage. It can take up to 3 hours to deliver your baby. This stage is hard work but your birthing partner will be a great source of support – lots of hand squeezing is recommended!

Stage three
This happens after your baby is born and you deliver the placenta. This is often done by having an injection of oxytocin which encourages the womb to start contracting. Or you can let nature take its course which usually takes an hour. Your midwife and doctor will advise on the best option for you.

You can do it!

You’ve got this. Even though the prospect of labour can be daunting, the important thing is that you stay positive and believe in yourself. After all, in a few hours you will have brought your baby into the world, showing a strength that you never knew you had.