How will I know I’m in Labour?

Top Questions asked by pregnant women in the UK.

New research from Start4Life highlights that mothers-to-be are looking for answers by revealing their top 20 questions. One of these is How will I know I’m in Labour? What are the signs of Labour?

Pregnancy Advice: What are the signs of Labour?

I know when I was expecting my first baby, I was slightly apprehensive about going into labour and what it was going to be like. I did go to Antenatal classes, and yes I spent many an evening learning about labour and giving birth, but talking about it and actually experiencing it, are totally different.

I know we are all different, but I have read or heard about women who don’t even know their in labour until they give birth. (Wouldn’t that be great!) So what are the signs to look for.

There are several signs that labour might be starting, including:

  • contractions or tightenings
  • a “show”, when the plug of mucus from your cervix (entrance to your womb, or uterus) comes away
  • a backache
  • an urge to go to the toilet, which is caused by your baby’s head pressing on your bowel
  • your waters breaking (rupture of membranes)


When you have a contraction, your womb tightens and then relaxes. For some people, contractions may feel like extreme period pains. 

Sometimes, at the end of your pregnancy, you may have had contractions. These tightenings are called Braxton Hicks contractions and are usually painless.

As labour gets going, your contractions tend to become longer, stronger and more frequent. During a contraction, the muscles tighten and the pain increases. Your abdomen will get harder and then when the muscles relax, the pain fades and you will feel the hardness ease.

The contractions are pushing your baby down and opening the entrance to your womb (the cervix), ready for your baby to go through.

Until your contractions are regular and frequent you will probably be advised to stay at home.

Call your midwife for guidance when your contractions are in a regular pattern and:

  • last at least 60 seconds
  • come every 5 minutes

If you’re planning to have your baby in a maternity ward, phone the hospital.


Often backache comes on during pregnancy. Or you may have a heavy, aching feeling that some women experience during their period.

Urge to go to the toilet

As your baby moves further down and the head presses on your bowel, you may have the urge to go to the toilet.

A ‘Show’

During pregnancy, there’s a plug of mucus in your cervix. This plug comes away just before labour starts, or when in early labour, and you may pass it out of your vagina. This small amount of sticky, jelly-like pink mucus is called a show.

A show indicates that the cervix is starting to open. Labour may quickly follow or may take a few days. However, some women don’t have a show.

It may come away in one blob or in several pieces. It’s pink in colour because it’s bloodstained. It’s normal to lose a small amount of blood mixed with the mucus. If you are bleeding heavily, it is advised to call your midwife or hospital immediately.

Your water’s breaking

Most women’s waters break during labour, but it can also happen before labour starts. This happened to me. My waters broke a day before my labour started. Luckily, in both my pregnancies, my waters broke whilst sleeping. If this happens to you and your waters break before labour starts, call your midwife. Use a sanitary pad (not a tampon) so your midwife can check the colour of the waters. Most women go into labour within 24 hours of their waters breaking. You’ll be offered an induction if you don’t because, without amniotic fluid, there’s an increased risk of infection for your baby.

Your unborn baby develops and grows inside a bag of fluid called the amniotic sac. When it’s time for your baby to be born, the sac usually breaks and the amniotic fluid drains out through your vagina. This is your waters breaking.

If your waters break naturally, you may feel a slow trickle or a sudden gush of water you can’t control. To prepare for this, you could keep a sanitary towel (but not a tampon) handy if you’re going out, and put a protective sheet on your bed.

Amniotic fluid is clear and a pale straw colour. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell amniotic fluid from urine. When your waters break, the water may be a little bloodstained to begin with.

Tell your midwife immediately if:

  • the waters are smelly or coloured
  • you’re losing blood

In some cases, your waters don’t break naturally in labour, so your midwife or doctor may have to break them for you.

These are the top signs to look for when pregnant to indicate you are going into labour. Although, you maybe nervous, its an exciting time, as it’s not long before you get to meet your little one. Trust me, this is the most amazing experience and feeling in the world.

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1 Comment

  • Mya

    This is great information for expecting mums!! Thanks for sharing x

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