Signs and Symptoms of Labour

Signs of Labour: What to Look Out For

There are a number of different signs that may indicate that labour is not too far away. These can occur as much as a week or more before labour begins.

While many pregnant women worry about whether they’ll know when they are in early labour, you can find a list of a few of the most common signs of labour here. But don't worry too much; a woman's body almost always gives her the signals she needs and the inner wisdom to recognise them.

Common Labour Signs

Although every pregnancy is different and there is no definite set of events, some common early signs of labour include:

  • Lightening
    Your baby drops lower into your pelvis in the weeks or hours before labour. This is called lightening because you may find breathing a little easier as your baby will no longer be pressing against your diaphragm. You may also feel like you need to urinate more often.
  • Looser Joints and Muscles
    Your joints may loosen as your body prepares for the delivery. A related labour symptom may be diarrhoea as the muscles in your rectum also loosen.
  • A Change in Energy Levels
    You may be feeling extra tired or experiencing a sudden surge of energy in the days or weeks before labour. You might also have the urge to nest and get prepared for the baby.
  • Bloody Show
    You might notice a thick, pinkish or blood-streaked discharge called a bloody show. This is the mucus plug that sealed your cervix during pregnancy. It usually appears within the two weeks before labour, although it’s not always noticeable.
  • Water Breaking
    Water breaking is one of the most common labour signs, usually taking place within a day of delivery (but sometimes only during active labour), when the amniotic sac ruptures and releases the fluid inside. You could experience a gush of water or just a trickle. If your water breaks, notify your doctor or midwife.
  • Early Contractions
    These feel like menstrual cramps every 20 to 30 minutes, gradually becoming stronger and more frequent. When the contractions occur every three to five minutes, you’re in active labour. Time your contractions, or have someone time them for you.

Definitely call your doctor or midwife if you notice bright red bleeding (not pale pink or dark brown), if your water breaks (especially if the fluid is green or brown or has a foul odour), if your baby is less active, or you have a headache, vision problems, or sudden swelling. Also call your doctor if you are showing signs of preterm labour, which is when you go into labour before the baby is ready to be born.

What to Do When in Early Labour

Don’t panic if you only experience a few signs of labour approaching, because many women don’t notice all of them. If you think you are in labour, call your doctor or midwife, whether it’s day or night. Tell them your symptoms of labour, and keep in mind, you may not need to go to the hospital immediately. Your doctor or midwife will give you guidance based on your labour signs and your individual situation.

Realising you're in labour can bring feelings ranging from excitement to disbelief or apprehension. Try to stay calm and focused. Arrange to have your partner or friend with you to help record labour symptoms, keep you company, and get you to the hospital when the time comes.

How to Tell Real and False Labour Signs Apart

True Labour False Labour
Contractions are regular and follow a predictable pattern (such as every eight minutes). Contractions are irregular and unpredictable, occurring, for example, in intervals of ten minutes, then six minutes, two minutes, eight minutes, etc.
You experience three types of progression: contractions become closer in time, longer, and stronger. No progression is seen over time in the closeness of the contraction intervals, length, or strength of the contractions.
Each contraction is felt starting at the lower back, radiating around to the front, low in the groin. Contractions are felt as a generalised abdominal tightening.
A change in activity or position will not slow or stop contractions. A change in activity or position may cause contractions to slow or stop.
There may be bloody show. There is usually no bloody show.
Your water may break. Your water doesn’t break.
Your doctor or midwife will notice your cervix softening, thinning, or dilating. No cervical changes occur.

You’ll have calculated your due date, but babies can arrive a little early. So, in the third trimester, get your hospital bag packed, stock up on nappies, and get some labour tips. Knowing you are prepared will help reduce anxiety when you notice those early labour signs. You’re nearing the end of your pregnancy, and you’re about to bring your baby into the world. You can do this!

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