Signs of labour

What happens before your baby is in your arms

Unlike what you see on television, a woman’s water breaking as the sign that labour is starting only happens in approximately 5% of cases. With that being said, how will you know that your body is going into labour? Let us take this in stages, of what happens before baby is in your arms.

The following are good signs that your body is preparing but wont give you a timeline of when baby will arrive:

Baby dropping or ‘lightening’

As your body prepares for labour, the baby prepares too by going deeper into your pelvis. You may notice this has happened because you can take deeper breaths as baby is lower down. You may also notice that there is more stretching and discomfort in the hips and low back. The ligaments stretch and the pelvis opens up.

Losing the mucous plug. 

This is exactly what is sound like. As the cervix prepares for labour, the plug of mucous that was formed at the beginning of pregnancy comes out.  This can happen all at once or over the course of  a few days. It can be clear and stringy and it can be tinged with blood. This is a great sign that the body is preparing for labour but it doesn’t tell us when. The plug can come out in labour, hours, days or even more before active labour begins.

Water breaking

This is where the amniotic sac that surrounds the baby has a tear and leaks fluid. As mentioned before, this is usually what most people are looking for as a sign of labour but most women experience contractions before the water breaks. If the water breaks before contractions, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • It is not usually a one-time gush. Once there is a tear in the bag the water will continue to leak until you meet your baby. If the water is broken you will wear an overnight pad and soak through it in about 2 hours or so.
  • It can happen as a gush or a small trickle but either way you will not be able to hold it in like you would if it was urine.
  • If it is green or brown-tinged you should go to hospital to be monitored.

Contractions and cramping

There are different types of contractions. Some are helping your body prepare while others are dilating the cervix and eventually bringing baby out into your arms.

  1. Braxton Hicks contractions. These are what we like to call ‘practice contractions’.  These are where the uterus gets very tight and then relaxes. There is usually no pain associated however they may be uncomfortable like if someone was giving you a big bear hug. They can be short or long in duration. Some moms experience lots of these and some have none. There is no correlation to having lots of these practice contractions and going into labour early or having a fast delivery.
  2. Early labour contractions. For most women these feel a lot like menstrual cramps. They are low in the belly and potentially a bit in the low back. They are irregular and typically short in duration. They may pick up in frequency and duration with activity and slow down with rest.

Now let’s talk about something that will give you an indication that baby is coming in the nearer future:

Active labour contractions

These contractions are the ones that are dilating the cervix and bringing your baby.

  • These are typically under 5 minutes apart, last 60 seconds and are strong enough that you need to focus through them.
  • They do not slow down or go away with rest and relaxation and tend to be easier to manage when moving and breathing through them.

If you haven’t contacted your health care provider already, this is the time to be in touch with your doctor or midwife. They will want to monitor both you and your baby during the active labour phase, when contractions are in the pattern spoken about above.