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What Are The Signs I'm In Labour

Your due date is creeping closer but what are the first signs of labour?

And how exactly do you know you’re about to have your baby? 

It’s not an exact science and only about 4% of babies appear on their due date. Around 1 in 5 don’t make an appearance until 41 weeks or later. And if you’re having more than one baby or they’re just super keen to make an escape they could arrive early. 

Movies and television tell us labour goes something like this...

Woman grabs her stomach. Water drips from between her legs. She’s rushed to hospital. Screams a bit and five minutes later she’s cradling a newborn. That, quite frankly, is bollocks. The whole labour process can take days and often starts with small signs that your body is getting ready for the main event. 

What are the most common signs of labour? 

Rumbling contractions 

When a volcano explodes or an earthquake happens there’s usually a few rumbles beforehand. Labour is similar. You can get Braxton Hicks (sometimes called practice or false contractions) from the start of your third trimester and they’re your uterus contracting to prepare your body for actual birth. Labour doesn’t officially start until those contractions start to open your cervix. 

At first, it can be tricky to know if contractions are real, but unlike Braxton Hicks, they should get stronger and closer together over time. Call your midwife or maternity unit when your contractions are regular, last at least 60 seconds and come every 5 minutes. Feel panicky or unsure? Call them, they’re there to help. 

Waddle walk

You might have spent the last few weeks with a walk that resembles a cowboy, but you might feel even more pressure if you’re about to go into labour. 

Disappearing heartburn

If you’ve spent the last few weeks struggling with heartburn and it suddenly vanishes this could be go time. That’s because your baby has dropped further down and isn’t pressing on your stomach. You might find it easier to breathe too.

Ouchy back

You might have a lot of pressure or pain in your back as your baby shifts position. And it’s common to feel contractions in your back as well as your stomach. 

Boak. What is that?

If a lump of brown, pink or red stringy or jelly-like discharge drops out of your vag do not freak out. This is your mucus plug, also called a show. Sometimes it comes out all at once or gradually over a few days before labour kicks off. You don’t need to contact your midwife, but give her a call if you’re actively bleeding. 

Leaky boobs

In the run-up to having your baby your boobs might start leaking colostrum, a nutrient-rich liquid that nourishes your baby until your boobs deliver milk a few days after birth. 

The runs 

It’s hormone city again, which can give you diarrhoea and sometimes the ghost of early pregnancy puking comes back. Drink plenty of water and give any rich foods a swerve. 

Swollen what? 

You’ve probably accepted your swollen feet, hands and face. But as you get closer to labour you can get swollen lips, and we don’t mean the ones on your face. 

Pee, pee and more pee 

The heartburn might have done one but as your baby drops down they press on your bladder so expect to spend a lot of time walking to the loo. It might be tempting to drink less but you need to keep hydrated with plenty of water. 

Magical energy

You might get a sudden burst of energy and feel the need to clean the whole house and organise everything. This is called nesting and is a sure sign you’re on your way to meeting your baby. But don’t expect an overnight arrival as this can happen a few weeks before your baby appears. 


Maybe you’ll be one of the 10% of mums who start labour with their waters breaking. Your baby develops inside a bag of fluid and when they’re ready to be born, the sac breaks and the fluid comes out through your vagina. It can happen all in one big splosh or come out in trickles. 

Your amniotic fluid should be clear colourless, whitish, or pink. If your amniotic fluid is green, yellow, or brown it can mean your baby has pooped inside you. If this happens, call your midwife straight away. 

Your waters protect your baby so although you don’t need to rush into hospital, you should contact your midwife if nothing else happens after 24 hours. You’ll probably need to wear a sanitary pad to catch any trickles. When you’re heavily pregnant it can be hard to tell the difference between wee and waters so if you’re not sure get your midwife to check. 

What do I do now? 

Unlike the movies you don’t need to dash to hospital, this could take a while. You can have on and off symptoms for days. 

Try to relax, eat small light meals and walk around if it feels good. Keep topped up with water and have a warm bath. If you’ve done any relaxation practice now’s the time to put it into action. If you’re in pain take some paracetamol (follow what the pack says). 

You can call your midwife if you’re worried but they might tell you to stay at home until your labour is further along.

Found this helpful? Read What’s it like to be induced 

Pregnant and want some help and support? Join us on Facebook, 70,000 mums who know exactly where you’ve been. 


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