The main signs of labour are: contractions starting, having ‘a show’, or your waters breaking.
Firstly, you might have ‘a show’. This is also known as your ‘mucous plug’. It sits inside your cervix (the neck/entrance of the womb) during pregnancy, and keeps your baby safe from infection. It’s a sticky, jelly-like mucous. It’s usually a pinky colour. It gets its colour as it is blood stained. This is completely normal, however, if you’re losing more blood, you should always contact your midwife. Losing your mucous plug is an indication that your cervix is starting to open up. Your mucous plug may come away in one, or in a few pieces. Not everyone will have a show, or you might not notice that you’ve had one, as it may be flushed away in the toilet. Labour does not always start immediately after you have a show, and can take a few days, for other women labour will begin soon after.
Secondly, your waters might break. This is also called ‘ruptured membranes’. Your waters are the fluid held inside the bag surrounding baby during pregnancy – its main job is to keep your baby safe from knocks and bumps during pregnancy, you might also hear it called amniotic fluid or liquor. This bag often breaks when your baby is ready to be born – this is when you might notice water draining. Most women’s waters don’t break until labour has already started. When your waters go it might be a gush or a trickle. They are normally a clear or pale straw colour. If you think your waters have broken, pop on a maternity pad to help your midwife check if your waters have gone, and call your midwife. You should not use a tampon. If your waters are smelly, coloured or you’re losing blood, make sure you call your midwife immediately.
Thirdly, let’s talk about contractions. Contractions are the tightening of the womb – these help to open your cervix and to push baby down through the pelvis. Contractions come in waves – as labour progresses, your contractions will become longer and stronger. These early contractions are called the latent phase, or early labour. As your contractions become stronger, you might find it harder to talk when having contractions. When your contractions are regular, lasting around 60 seconds, and coming every 5 minutes, you should call your midwife or maternity unit.
Contractions are different to Braxton Hicks. Braxton Hicks are when the uterus (womb) tightens and relaxes – they are sometimes also known as ‘practice’ or ‘false’ labour pains. Not all women will experience them, but if they do it will be towards the end of their pregnancy. They are
not painful, but may be uncomfortable. You can tell the difference as contractions will be more regular and frequent, and they will become stronger and longer over time. Braxton Hicks are not regular and do not increase in strength and frequency. Unlike contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions will not open your cervix. If you are not sure if you are experiencing contractions or Braxton Hicks, you can always call your midwife for more advice.
You might also experience backache, or feel that you need to go to the toilet, if baby’s head presses on your bowel.
To recap, you should call your midwife if you think your waters have broken or if your contractions are regular, last 60 seconds and are coming every 5 minutes.
Make sure you always call your midwife if:
• You think your waters have broken
• You’re bleeding
• Your baby is not moving as much
• You’re less than 37 weeks pregnancy and you think your labour has started
If anything is worrying you, or you’re not sure if you’re in labour, you can always ring your midwife for advice.