How do I Know if I’m in Labour?

The nine long months of pregnancy lead to the eventual delivery of your child. The process of childbirth begins with labour, and this article describes what you should be looking out for when nearing the end of your pregnancy.

When should I expect to go into labour?

There is no set point at which you should go into labour, when your body is ready to give birth it will do so! Your doctor or midwife can give you a rough due date, which is calculated based on either the first day of the your last period or your date of conception. Few people know exactly when their baby was conceived, so generally speaking your last period will be used to calculate a due date.

The due date is typically around the 38th week of a pregnancy, which is usually about 40 weeks from the beginning of your last period. Of course this isn’t set in stone, it’s just a rough guide as to when you can expect to go into labour and begin the process of childbirth.

What are the signs of labour?

Your midwife will probably give you plenty of information about how to tell if you’re going into labour. Generally speaking the signs of labour are very clear, but if you do need to make sure you should contact your midwife or doctor.

The characteristic signs of labour are strong contractions, backache, diarrhoea, a desperate need for the toilet, and your water breaking.


Coming to the end of your pregnancy you will probably be familiar with what contractions feel like. Contractions that happen during a pregnancy are called Braxton Hicks Contractions, and feel very similar to the painful tightening of your womb that is the hallmark sign of a pregnancy coming to an end.

Unlike Braxton Hicks Contractions, labour contractions are regular and quite strong, lasting for over 30 seconds. These will become more frequent, stronger, and last longer as time goes on. As mentioned before, a contraction is the tightening of muscles in your womb, and you can feel your stomach harden if you put your hands on top of it during contractions.

These muscular tightening serve a very important purpose: they push your baby downwards in preparation for childbirth. Generally speaking you should consider yourself in labour and ready for the hospital (or your midwife if you are having a homebirth) when your contractions happen every 5 minutes and last up to a minute.

The ‘Show’

The ‘show’ refers to another traditional sign of labour, the loss of a mucus plug which normally seals the opening of your womb (called the cervix). This mucus is usually a sticky pink substance which is called a ‘show’, and is one of the ways your body prepares itself for labour.

The ‘show’ can be a bit unnerving if you aren’t expecting it. It may come away in one or several pieces, and its pinkish colour is because there is usually a small amount of blood involved. This small amount of blood loss is perfectly normal and no cause for concern. If you start losing any more blood then you should get in touch with your doctor, midwife, or a hospital as soon as possible, as this can be a sign of a complication.

The show may signal the beginning of labour, or it may happen a few days before labour kicks in. Either way, while it is a sign of labour, contractions remain the deciding factor when it comes to whether you should go to the hospital or call your midwife.

Water Breaking

Your water will often break before or during labour, and this is yet another classic sign that you are ready for childbirth. The ‘water’ that you will feel coming out of your vagina isn’t urine or water, it is in fact a special substance which surrounds your baby during pregnancy and acts as a protective shock absorber. This fluid is called the amniotic fluid, and its drainage through your vagina is your water breaking.

Many women feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when their water breaks, particularly because it can range from being a small amount of fluid coming out slowly to a sudden release of a great deal of fluid. Being prepared for it can help however, and it is often a good idea to have a tampon or towel with you at the end of your pregnancy.

The fluid itself is usually a little blood-stained, but otherwise a clear amber or straw colour. If you notice any excess of blood, or if your amniotic fluid is a strange colour or smell, you should contact your midwife or doctor straightaway.

Backache and Bladder Control

Backache is a common part of labour, but is not a sure indication of the onset of childbirth. Most women experience backache throughout the third trimester, as it is during this time that unborn babies grow the most, placing a lot of pressure on a mother’s back.

A sudden and urgent need for the toilet will often affect you during labour as the baby is repositioned for childbirth (head facing downwards). This results in extra pressure on your bladder, and while this can be a source of discomfort, it is also perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.

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