Pregnancy can feel like it lasts a lifetime – a never-ending combination of aches, sickness and general discomfort. But, before you know it, your due date arrives and with it, the labour, and your new prized treasure is now going to be in your arms in no time. Understandably, you’re itching to get things moving so you can meet your little one. However, if you’re a first-time mummy, your firstborn is most likely to be overdue. It’s therefore important to be able to spot initial signs of labour, so you can take necessary action or more importantly, save a wasted trip to the hospital should it be a false alarm.
There’s no such thing as a typical labour and birth – everyone’s experience is different. The important thing to remember is that whilst they all differ, they’re all also completely normal. We’ll take you through everything there is to know about what are the early signs of labour, so that you can be fully prepared for the big day. Ready, steady, baby!
What are the First Signs of Early Labour?
For up to a week before the birth of your little one, you may begin to question these early signs of labour:
- Is my baby dropping a sign of labour?
Dropping, or lightening, is when anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours before active labour begins, your bub’s head will drop into the pelvis to prepare for birth. You’ll probably first become aware of the drop whilst glancing in a mirror. Thankfully, the shortness of breath that you’ve been experiencing could improve a lot as your little one shifts down and away from your diaphragm. Though, keep in mind that with it may come new pelvic heaviness/discomfort and an increased need to go to the toilet. So, this is the time to put your feet up!
- Is stopping gaining weight towards the end of my third trimester a sign of labour?
If you’ve been progressively gaining weight during your third trimester, you may notice the number on the scale eventually stops going up towards the end. In fact, some women can actually lose 1 to 3 pounds due to water breaking and increased urination prior to labour.
- Is feeling tired a sign of labour?
Don’t be surprised or alarmed if one day you’ve got a spring in your step and the next… you’re completely spent. Towards the end of your third trimester, you may feel like all you want to do is nap. Although getting a good night’s sleep can be challenging when you’re 9 months pregnant, try to get as much rest as possible and save your energy. Being well-rested will prove useful – trust us. After all, they don’t call it labour for no reason!
- Is back pain a sign of labour?
Of course, backache on its own doesn’t mean labour is happening that instant. However, when accompanied with other symptoms and signs of labour, it may just be the real deal!
Keep in mind that a dull ache in your back may come and go. Warm showers, going for walks or asking your partner to massage your lower back can all help to soothe backache. However, if it gets progressively worse, make sure to call your doctor/midwife, as it could very well be a sign of early labour.
- Is diarrhoea a sign of labour?
A day or two before labour starts, hormones called prostaglandins will get to work to help soften your cervix so that it can begin to open. Unfortunately, the downside to this is that these same hormones may also cause diarrhoea. Fear not though! The good news here is that clearing your bowels will mean your uterus can contract more efficiently during labour. Drink water as much as you can, and you’ll be fine!
- Are loose joints and increased clumsiness a sign of labour?
Whilst you’re probably thinking clumsiness surely can’t be a sign of labour – it actually can be! As labour starts, there’s also an increase in the hormone relaxin, which helps widen your pelvis for birth. Relaxin affects all your joints, and that “loose” feeling can be the reason as to why you’re being clumsier than usual.
- Is increased vaginal discharge a sign of labour?
Your vagina may release more mucus as your body practices lubricating your birth canal, making it easier for your little one to slide out when the big day comes! Keep in mind that the discharge could also be pieces of mucus breaking off from your mucus plug – but more on that in a second!
- Is period pain a sign of labour?
For many mummies to be, the earliest sign of labour is the cramping feeling that you normally get when you’re on your period.
If you have a show – mucus leaving the mucus plug as a single blob of pinkish jelly or in smaller bits – it can sometimes be reddish-brown and blood-stained. A show is a sign that your cervix is starting to stretch and soften to get ready for your little one’s arrival. It can be anything from an hour to a number of days between the show and the beginning of labour. However, the blood shouldn’t resemble that of a period where it’s bright red – if it is, contact the hospital as soon as possible.
- Is feeling sick a sign of labour?
Thought feeling sick was just in the first trimester? Think again! Unfortunately, some women may experience it again as the birth of their little one nears. But just remember that it’ll all be worth it once you’re holding your angel in your arms!
Signs that Labour is Starting
Labour can begin quite quickly, but it’s often slow at the start (especially if it’s your first babe). And sometimes it can even start without you realising.
It may be time for the big day if:
- Your waters break
The amniotic sac is a bag of fluid surrounding your little one in the womb. When your waters break, the skin of the sac breaks and the fluid comes out. Be wary that this can sometimes happen as a sudden gush of liquid. However, more often than not it will begin to trickle. If your waters break and the colour’s green, you’re bleeding heavily or you’re concerned about your bub’s movements – contact your midwife or midwifery unit as soon as possible.
- Your contractions start
These will feel like a frequent tightening of your womb, as it works to open and thin out your cervix and push your babe down the birth canal. It’s a clear sign that labour has begun if your contractions come closer together and last longer. You should feel them getting stronger, longer and more rhythmical – meeting your angel is only round the corner now!
Remember, it’s completely normal and okay to feel nervous about the birth, particularly if it seems to be never-ending, or you’re nervous about how much it’ll hurt. Take a step back, breathe and keep in mind what’s waiting at the end for you – a little cutie who’s going to give you endless snuggles.
Kiddies Kingdom Top Tip – when you’re in labour, be sure to wear something that’s going to keep you cool and comfy, for example an old T-shirt.
Sometimes, mummies to be may begin to have contractions which eventually fade away. Of course, these can be misleading, making you believe that you’re going into labour. You make the journey all the way to the hospital, only to find that it’s a false alarm. Should this happen to you, you may be examined, and saddened to find out it’s still not quite time to meet your little one yet. Don’t be disheartened though, they’ll be in your arms very soon, and they’re worth every minute of the wait! In such a situation, you’ll probably be advised to go back home and await labour restarting. This is wise unless you live quite a distance away from the hospital. Just remember, don’t feel embarrassed, or start to worry – these sorts of false alarms are completely normal and happen all the time!
When to Take Action
As you get closer to your due date, your midwife should give you a rough idea as to what to do when you think you’re in labour (all counties have a different procedure). Below is a rough guide for the UK.
If you’re less than 37 weeks pregnant, call your midwife if you believe you’re having contractions AND:
- Have a bloody vaginal discharge and/or
- Have a watery discharge and/or
- Have cramping or lower back pain
These could be signs that you’re going into premature labour and therefore you’ll need medical attention.
If you’re more than 37 weeks pregnant, call for medical help if:
- You haven’t noticed your little one moving, or their movements have slowed down
- You believe your waters have broken
- You have unexpected bleeding
If in any doubt, it’s always recommended to contact a medical professional who will be able to give further information and help. Labour can go on for a very long time, sometimes days, so it’s important to not contact the hospital before it’s absolutely necessary to do so.
Tips for Relaxing in Labour
Whilst we understand it may be difficult to completely relax during labour, here are some top tips which can help make the process a little more comfortable:
- Take deep relaxing breaths
- Have a bath or shower
- Get into your birthing pool (if you have one) – the water can help to lessen the intensity of contractions.
- Use relaxation and breathing techniques. We’ve got lots of additional information on the pain relief techniques that can give a helping hand when it comes to labour.
- Give hypnotherapy or aromatherapy a try, providing you’ve talked to your midwife about it, and you know how to use them.
- Have something to eat/drink
- Go for a walk
- Use your TENS machine (if you have one)
The first and second phases of labour can feel intense, and we sometimes call this the transition.
For many mummies to be, the transition stage will feel different from other parts of their labour. You may feel:
- The urge to push
- Or that labour has stopped entirely
The transition phase is just as much a mental experience as it as a physical one. You may feel:
- Angry and frustrated with hospital staff and your birthing partner
But don’t worry – this is a natural reaction, and it means that welcoming your little miracle into the world is very close!
Your midwife will help and guide you through this stage by supporting you through your contractions and encouraging you to find the best position.
Remember – it’s okay to let everyone know what feelings you’re going through at that moment. And if you don’t want anyone to touch you, even if it’s your birthing partner, just let them know. People will understand you’re in a tough position. And no one will want to mess with a mama in labour!
Once you reach the final weeks of your pregnancy, of course, you’re going to be super eager and excited to meet your little miracle. And at this stage, every feeling you have, may make it seem like a sign of labour. However, some of these signs of labour may mean you still have days – even weeks – to go until the big day. Don’t worry though, it’ll arrive soon enough, and when it does, it’s going to be magical – and very much worth the wait!