How will I know if I am in labour? Check our list of signs and symptoms to help you to recognise whether labour is underway.

It can be difficult to get a sensible answer to this question! A common response is ‘You’ll know’… well, that is not very helpful if you have never been in labor before! It is a tricky question though, as every labour begins differently and every woman will tell a different story for the labour and birth of every different baby…

Firstly – what is a labour contraction?

This is where the muscle fibres of the womb (uterus) shorten. In labour this causes the cervix (neck of the womb which opens into the vagina) to open or dilate and the baby to be born. In most women the contractions become increasingly painful as they become stronger, close to the birth. The pain eases between contractions and can be compared to period cramps or abdominal cramps that accompany a diarrhoea bug.

Irregular contractions in early labour

These contractions are irregular in frequency and in length – they may be anywhere between every 3 – 20 minutes, lasting 20-60 seconds.

This is common in the early stages of labour, when the cervix is softening or ripening.

Occasionally these irregular contractions can come and go for a few days before you go into established labour.

Mild contractions every 20 minutes

Mild contractions are tightenings that are rarely painful and do not stop you from continuing with everyday activities. They are a sign to get ready, organize child care for your toddlers if necessary, finish packing your bag (for hospital or other birthing centre), and have a light bite to eat. Usually these labour pains or contractions become more painful and closer together as labour becomes established.

Feeling sick in labour

This is very common in labour, as is vomiting and diarrhoea. The body is about to work so hard at the task of birthing your baby that it may empty itself of any foodstuff first.

Find the Right Pregnancy & Birth Book for You!

Click here for the Most Popular International BestSellers

 
 

Spurt of energy

Many women get a spurt of energy in the days prior to the birth – known as ‘nesting’. It is a feeling of wanting to get everything ready while you have the spare time – wanting everything to be sorted for the baby. Use this energy wisely – fill the freezer with healthy meals that can just be reheated on a day when the baby does not want to be put down for a moment!

Wet knickers

This could mean that your membranes have ruptured or ‘your waters have gone’. The baby is enclosed in a sealed sac made up of 2 membranes – these keep the baby safe from infection. These are filled with amniotic fluid, which the baby swallows, and this is usually pale yellow.

If you are trickling water (even though you have been to the toilet and emptied your bladder) this sac may have burst, allowing fluid to seep out. Put a pad on your knickers and check it in half an hour if you are unsure.

If the fluid is green / brown your baby has moved its bowels inside (passed meconium) – your baby may have been distressed – contact your midwife or doctor.

The fluid may be blood stained – get this checked out by your midwife or doctor too.

Backache that comes and goes

Contractions occur at the top of your womb (the top of your bump) but you may feel them lower down in your abdomen, or in your back – especially if baby is lying with his back against your back. This can be very uncomfortable and make for a long labour – try kneeling on ‘all fours’ or lying on your side to aid baby to turn around inside you. The pain will feel worse if you lie on your back.

Mild contractions every 5 minutes

Your contractions are regular, but they have not yet become painful. It could still be early labour, but ring your LMC for advice. If you are going to have your baby in hospital then begin to get ready to transfer in – depending upon how far away you live.

Show (mucus plug)

The entrance to your womb (cervix) is closed during pregnancy and the baby is in a sealed sac of fluid – this prevents infection ascending to baby. There is also a mucus plug in the cervix called a ‘show’ (or operculum) – this further protects your baby from infection.

When your cervix starts to soften and open in early labour, this mucus plug may come away. You may notice a jelly like discharge, that will be clear or blood streaked. Get any discharge checked out by your LMC if you are unsure.

However, sometimes this mucus plug (or part of it) comes away but then nothing else happens for days! So this sign on its own does not necessarily mean you are about to go into labour. Conversely, in some women the mucus plug does not come away until they are fully dilated and pushing!

Diarrhoea in labour

Diarrhoea, along with nausea and vomiting, is very common in labour. Your abdominal muscles are working extremely hard and often the contractions are accompanied by your bowels emptying – causing diarrhoea.

Feeling shaky in labour

Just like anyone who is working extremely hard, it is common to feel shaky in labour.

Ouch! A contraction

When the contractions are becoming painful and are regular and frequent (every 5 minutes), then you are probably in established labour (this means that your cervix is opening and this is definitely labour, not a false alarm!). It is time to contact your LMC – if you have not already.

Sudden gush of water

This usually means that your membranes have ruptured or ‘your waters have gone’.

The baby is enclosed in a sealed sac made up of 2 membranes – these keep the baby safe from infection. These are filled with amniotic fluid, which the baby swallows, and this is usually pale yellow.

If you pass a gush of fluid this sac has probably burst at the bottom, allowing fluid to gush out. Put a pad on your knickers and call your midwife.

If the fluid is green/ brown your baby has moved its bowels inside (passed meconium) – your baby may have been distressed – tell your midwife or doctor immediately.

The fluid may be blood stained – get this checked out by your midwife or doctor too.

Want to push

It is very rare for women to have a ‘silent’ labour- where they have not realized that they are in advanced labour. If you have the urge to push when you are still at home stay warm and safe at home and call help to come to you – your LMC or call 111 (in New Zealand) for an ambulance.

When to call your midwife

The above are all signs of labour. They will happen to Mums-To-Be in different orders and in different ways – so call your LMC when you think you may be in early labour and talk over what is happening, how you are feeling and whether you have felt your baby move.

There are certain times when you should contact a health professional (such as your LMC, a midwife or doctor) immediately:-

  • Any bleeding in pregnancy
  • Reduced fetal movements (kicks from your baby)
  • If your waters break – tell your midwife what colour the water is
  • If you feel unwell – headaches, dizzy, unusual pain

Useful “In Labour” Articles

See our article: Labour – the Three Stages for more information on what to expect during labour.

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Author

Paula Skelton is a qualified NZ nurse and midwife, a midwifery & childbirth educator and the mum of three lovely girls.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x