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Early signs of labour

In the week building up to your labour starting you might experience some of the following:

  • increased clear vaginal dischargemild upset stomach or diarrhoea

  • feeling energetic or restless

  • frequent practice contractions or tightenings of the uterus known as ‘Braxton Hicks’ and/or backache. Some women won’t notice any of these signs, and it is nothing to worry about if you don’t feel any different towards the end of pregnancy.

As your labour starts you may notice some of the following signs:

The ‘show’

During pregnancy, a plug of thick mucus forms in the cervix, and as the body prepares for labour this plug may pass out through the vagina. This can happen one to two weeks before labour, during labour or sometimes not at all. It appears as a clear or pink/slightly blood stained jelly-like substance, and you might notice it once or on a few occasions. You don’t need to call your midwife about this unless you are worried, however if you notice that it is heavily blood stained or that you are losing fresh blood, call your maternity triage/assessment unit straight away.

Contractions

When early labour (sometimes known as the latent phase) starts, you may experience irregular contractions that vary in duration and strength. This can sometimes last for a few days, and it is important to rest when you can until they become regular. When your contractions become strong and regular, it may be helpful to start timing them (approximately how often they are coming and how long they last for).

If it is your first baby, you will normally be advised to come to the maternity unit when your contractions are every three minutes and lasting for 60 seconds. If it is your second or subsequent baby, you may be advised to come to the maternity unit when your contractions are every five minutes and lasting for 45 seconds.

You can call your maternity unit for support at any time, and a midwife will advise you on when to come to the maternity unit. If you’re planning a homebirth, your midwife will come and visit you at home at the appropriate time. Many women find trying different positions, walking, a warm bath, distraction and relaxation techniques, massage and resting in between contractions useful when at home. It is important to have regular light snacks (even if you don’t feel hungry) and to sleep when possible. It is also important to drink, taking regular small sips of fluids in order to remain hydrated. You don’t need to drink more than you would normally. 

Your waters breaking

The amniotic sac is the fluid filled bag that your baby grows inside during pregnancy, and this sac may break before your baby is born. When it breaks, the fluid will drain out from the vagina.

Most women’s waters break during labour, but it can happen before labour starts. If your waters break, you may feel a slow trickle or a sudden gush of fluid. This fluid is normally clear or pink in colour, however sometimes a baby can pass their first poo (called meconium) inside the sac, causing the fluid to become green or yellow.

If you think your waters have broken it is important to call your maternity triage/assessment unit straight away, particularly if you think you can see meconium. If you think your water’s have broken, wear a thick sanitary pad as your midwife will ask to see this when you attend your maternity unit for a check-up. You can also take a photo of the initial loss of fluid as this can help with the assessment.

Make sure you take plenty of pads and a change of clothes with you on your journey into the maternity unit as once your waters have broken, you will continue to leak amniotic fluid. If your waters do break before labour, it is likely that your labour will start naturally within 24 hours, however if it doesn’t start it may be recommended that your labour is induced (started with the aid of medications) to reduce the risk of infection for both you and your baby. Your maternity team will discuss this with you and agree a plan if this is the case.