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What are the early signs of labour?

Labour tends to start gradually and lots of women wont even notice when it’s in it’s early stages. Regular tightening/cramping of the lower abdomen or back that steadily get stronger and closer together are the most common signs. The cramping may start off feeling like period type pain and may also be felt in the groin and thighs. There are signs that labour is imminent which include:

  • Having a ‘show’ – the plug of mucous starts to break down and  away as the cervix softens and starts to dilate
  • Waters breaking – this can having before contractions but usually happens when contractions are already established.

How much do these differ from woman to woman?

The signs that a woman will feel will depend on several factors including the position of the baby, whether or not you’ve had a baby before and your general well being. If the baby is in a ‘back to back’ also known as sunnyside up position, you may feel most of the contractions in your back. If you have laboured before with a previous birth, you may find that the contractions intensify quicker. Some women will notice losing their mucous plug and some wont. It varies pretty much from woman to woman.

What’s normal? What signs should cause concern?

If you are experiencing regular contractions that are slowly intensifying and getting closer together this is a good sign as it means that you are stepping closer to meeting your baby! There are some  situations however  in which you should inform your care provider immediately:

  • If you are less than 37 weeks pregnant and having signs of labour
  • If your baby’s movements are reduced – Your baby should still be moving, even during labour
  • If you notice any vaginal bleeding – slight pink mucous/ discharge (bloody show) is common in labour especially if the cervix is dilating rapidly but you should still mention it to your care provider.
  • If you are feeling unwell, have a temperature and/or rapid pulse
  • Your waters break and the colour is green or brown- this could be a sign that the baby has passed meconium ( first poo) in the uterus and occasionally is a sign of distress.

How long can early labour last?

Labour is broken down into 3 stages – The labour, the birth of baby and the birth of the placenta. The first stage however is broken down further into two more stages – Latent and established. The latent phase of labour is the earliest stage that occurs when a woman cervix  is dilating up to 4cm. This process can take hours or days for some women. It often takes a long time as the uterus is busy trying to coordinate itself to contract efficiently! Once a woman is in established labour, identified as being 4cm dilated and contracting at least every 4 minutes. This stage on average lasts between 8-12 hours for first time mums and around 5 hours for subsequent births.

When should you go to hospital/call your midwife?

You should call the hospital midwife if:

  • You have been having strong contractions every 4 minutes (start of one contraction to the start of the next) for about 2 hours and they are lasting 50 secs- 1 minute.
  • If you think you are in labour and have a history of a precipitous (super rapid) birth, even if you are not contracting as above
  • If you are experiencing any of the causes for concern mentioned

If you are worried about anything at all or feel you need support, call your midwife.

What if it’s not my due date yet?

As above if you are less than 37 weeks pregnant, call your care provider at the earliest opportunity.

Advice for keeping calm

Take an antenatal class to keep you informed as to what to expect, practice relaxation techniques that are used in programmes such as hypnobirthing. Write a birth plan and involve your birth partner, use positive affirmations throughout pregnancy to help you get into the right mindset and practice breathing techniques. Remember that each contraction will bring you closer to meeting your baby!