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Signs of labour

First-time parents may worry about knowing labour has started or if it’s a false alarm. The biggest sign that labour has started are contractions that become longer and stronger, and the gaps between them shorter.

There are also other signs to look for:

  • A ‘show’, when the plug of mucus from your cervix (entrance to your womb, or uterus) comes away.
  • Backache.
  • Your waters breaking - when it’s time for your baby to be born, the sac of amniotic fluid surrounding your baby breaks and drains out through your vagina. You may feel a slow trickle, or a sudden gush of watery fluid that you cannot control. Your waters can break during labour or before labour starts.
  • An urge to go to the toilet which is caused by your baby’s head pressing on the bowel.
  • Contractions - when labour has begun, you will feel contractions that become stronger, longer and in more of a regular pattern. Contractions that gradually come closer together and last longer than 30 seconds are the only sure sign of labour.

How to cope when labour begins

At the beginning of labour you can:

  • Walk or move around if you feel like it.
  • Drink fluids – you may find isotonic drinks help keep your energy levels up.
  • Have a snack if you feel like it.
  • Try relaxation and breathing exercises – your birth partner can help by doing these with you.
  • Have your birth partner rub your back.
  • Take paracetamol (it is safe to do so in labour).
  • Have a warm bath.

When to contact the Maternity Unit

Call the Maternity Unit if:

  • Your waters break.
  • You have vaginal bleeding.
  • Your baby is moving less than usual.
  • You’re less than 37 weeks and think you might be in labour.
  • Contractions are 5 minutes apart.

Further information and resources on sign of labour