How to tell you're in labour
After nine months, it all starts now! Here’s how to recognise the early signs of labour – and what to do.
It has been said that if you have time to think about it, then it’s not labour. A disheartening thought to a prospective mother at full-term, but nevertheless a true statement.
Labour is individual for each woman, for some it moves quite quickly and for others it’s a slower progress. Some women like to labour in the comfort of their own homes and some want pain relief after the first contraction. Your body has a lot of work to do before you are ready to push.
In early labour, called the first stage, your body is preparing for birth. Things you can do:
- stay at home for as long as you can
- have regular snacks to build your energy reserves
- rest as much as possible; and if it’s night time try and sleep
- try relaxing in a bath or a shower
- go to the toilet regularly and empty your bowels if you can
A show is a plug of mucous in the neck of your uterus. It is usually a thick consistency and is normally coloured straw or pink and may have some slight streaks of blood. (A greenish or black colour or bright fresh bleeding can indicate a problem with the baby and you will need to see a doctor or contact your hospital immediately)
A show can indicate changes to the neck of the uterus or that it is beginning to soften and open. This does not mean, however, that you need to pack up the car and get to the labour ward!
Some women can have two or three shows before going into labour and some will have signs of a show up to two weeks before labour begins. So, keep note of it and if you are worried in any way, ring your maternity hospital.
Timing of contractions
Unfortunately, babies cannot be born without contractions (unless you have an elective caesarian).
Contractions usually begin with a dull ache in the front, much like period pain. When contractions begin they are usually spaced widely apart and are short lasting – every 60 minutes, then every 30 minutes, gradually becoming stronger and more regular. It can take days or hours for the contractions to get into full swing.
When you are getting three contractions that last up to a minute every 10 minutes, it is time to ring the labour ward and begin to make your way to the hospital, following their advice. Labour for a first-time mother on average takes six to eight hours.
Word of warning: If you had a quick delivery with your other children or if there is a history of quick labours in your family then you should leave for hospital a lot earlier.
If your waters break
If your waters break you should ring your maternity unit immediately. They can then advise you of the steps you should take.
Take note of the colour of the water when they break. The easiest way to do this is using a maternity pad or sanitary towel. If you have a little puddle underneath, dab the pad in it and you will be able to tell the colour. Alternatively, put a pad on and when you feel a trickle check the colour.
Not all women experience the dramatic movie scene of the waters breaking and flooding the surrounding area! Some will just feel a constant trickle and only realise as their underwear feels damp! So if you think your waters have broken, do get checked out. It is more common for your waters to break in the later stages of labour than it is before labour begins.
It is also important to note that your waters breaking does not always mean labour will follow immediately. Most women will progress into labour but there are a few who may need to be induced after 24 hours of no action. Your midwife or doctor can advise you.