The Signs Labour Is Starting - Preparing For Birth Manual

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Finally, you’re in labour! The culmination of months of anticipation, getting to this point can make you feel quite euphoric. This is why the first part of labour is sometimes known as the ‘exciting’ phase. But here’s something to consider: it might go on for quite a while! So once you’ve had your moment of exhilaration, settle down and relax - you may need to conserve your energy!

So, how do we know we are in labour? One, or a combination of the following signs can indicate that labour has begun:

• A show - also referred to as a ‘bloody’ show. This occurs when the protective plug from the neck of the uterus (within the cervix) is shed. This mucus discharge, sometimes tinged with brown blood, can appear as a blob or be quite stringy. You may not even notice it. It can come out from the vagina as early as a couple of weeks before going into labour, or it can be an indication that you are in fact now in early labour. If it happens, you know things are ‘warming up’, but there is no need to do anything about it, as labour could still be a little way off yet. If you notice a lot of bright red blood, call the midwife or labour ward and they will talk you through what to do next; often you will be advised to wear a sanitary towel and call back within an hour, or they may ask you to pop in to get checked.

• Your waters ‘break’ – this is when the protective bag of fluid that has been surrounding the baby breaks, releasing its contents in a flood (where lots of the water is released) or, more commonly if the baby’s head is fully engaged, a trickle. Contact your midwife or labour ward if this happens and you are not having contractions. Usually most people will go into spontaneous labour within 24 hours of their waters going. Medical protocol would like to see babies born with 72 hours because there is an increase in the risk of infection once the protective seal has been broken. Leaky waters may be tricky to spot - you may feel like you have had a release of discharge, a little wee or even, if you had a bath earlier, all the bath water releases out! However, it’s always good to get this checked.

• Regular contractions (also known as ‘surges’ or ‘cramping sensations’) - these may be felt initially as a constant, nagging backache or mild period pain-like cramping in the abdomen. Over time these cramping sensations will settle and become stronger and more regular. This is your body cleverly working to push your baby down and eventually out. We will explain this in more detail next.

• Another sign of labour is being sick and/or diarrhoea i.e. loose stool - a sign the digestive system is emptying so the body can focus its’ energy and blood flow and oxygen on the uterus instead.