When you're pregnant, you can't predict exactly when you're going to go into labour, but you can keep an eye on the signs of labour - particularly the very early signs of labour which can begin a week before you give birth. If they seem to be hinting that things might be starting to happen then you can prepare yourself for the impending birth of your baby!
Just as every labour is different, every woman's experience of the lead-up to labour is different. Some women don't notice any warning signs, while others have all the clues and put them together to realise that labour isn't far away. For most, however, things start off slowly and build and build until labour finally arrives.
But what are the signs of labour to look out for? Make sure you read our easy to follow guide on everything you need to know about spotting labour signs.
Early signs of labourFor up to a week before your labour starts, you may notice some of the following early signs of labour. We go into more detail about what these are further on, but it's worth noting that you may not experience these until you're already in labour, so don't worry if that's the case!
Signs of labourYour due date is nearing, you might be bang on your due date or it may even have passed you, but if you go into labour then these are the labour signs to look out for.
BackacheYou might think that when labour is imminent that you'll start having pains in your abdomen, but for some women, labour pains are all in their back! So if you have a lower backache that won't go away, it could be a sign.
Baby moving downIf you can suddenly breathe more easily it may be that your baby has moved further down into the birth canal, which is also a sign of things starting to progress as the baby prepares for birth. You'll also feel more pressure on your bladder, though, and need to go to the toilet more regularly.
Braxton HicksYou may have experienced some Braxton Hicks during your pregnancy, which is when the womb contracts. They may become closer together, more intense and more uncomfortable in the lead-up to labour.
ContractionsWhat's a contraction?
It's when the uterus tightens to open the cervix and move the baby down.
What do they feel like?
They feel like a tightening across your stomach. Period pains are mild contractions, so they're like stronger versions of those.
How do I know if they're Braxton Hicks or contractions?
You need to count them and time them. If they become more frequent and last longer than 40 seconds, they're likely to be labour contractions.
Diarrhoea and/or vomitingThis is thought to be because the body is clearing itself out in preparation for birth. You may also feel the need to go to the toilet more as the baby's head presses on your bowel as it moves down the birth canal.
NestingDo you have an urge to tidy the house, clean the fridge or dust the lampshades, even though your big bump means you can barely move? Pregnant women (and animals) have an uncontrollable urge (a primal need) to create a nice, safe home for their offspring. If you get this urge near your due date it could be a sign that labour's on its way!
'Show'What's a show?
While you're pregnant your cervix is sealed by a plug of mucus. When birth is imminent the plug comes away and out of your vagina. Some women experience a 'show' a few days before labour gets going and in some it's just a few hours before.
What does it look like?
The plug is made of mucus, so it looks jelly-like and may be stained with a bit of blood or be brownish in colour. It could come away in one go, or in parts.
When should I be worried?
If there's a lot of blood it could be a sign that something's wrong, so call your midwife or your hospital straight away.
Waters breakWhat are 'waters'?
Your waters are the amniotic fluid inside the sac to protect the baby from infection and injury. When the baby's ready to be born the sac breaks and the fluid leaves the body through your vagina.
Will it hurt?
No, it won't hurt. You might feel a pop and then a trickle, or a gush of water. The liquid is clear and straw-coloured. If it's brown or green or any other colour you should contact your midwife.
How much liquid is there?
By the time you're 36 weeks pregnant it's about one and three quarter pints.
How do I know I'm not just leaking urine?
If you're leaking urine you should have some control over the flow. Also amniotic fluid smells different to urine. A single sanitary liner won't be able to absorb all the liquid.
Will I go into labour as soon as my waters break?
Not necessarily. For some women contractions start immediately with a feeling of period pain that grows in intensity until they're full-blown contractions. At the other end of the scale some women don't get any contractions at all and still need to be induced.
What should I do if my waters break?
If you think your waters have broken, or even if you're not sure, call your midwife or labour ward. They will need to determine whether you need to go in to hospital. If your waters have broken early, you and your baby are at risk of infection if you don't then go into labour so your midwife may ask you to come into hospital.
I've got some of the signs! I think labour's starting! What shall I do?Don't panic! Call your midwife or labour ward for advice. They help with hundreds of births and will be able to work out whether you need to go in for a check-up.
Even if they check you and send you home again, you'll be reassured! Or, congratulations, it's the real deal and your baby is on its way!