Signs & Symptoms of Labour

Many pregnant women have a strong feeling that labour is imminent. This feeling cannot usually be explained, but they just “know” it. There may be other tell-tale signs from the body suggesting that the birth is coming up. Each labour may be very different to others you have previously experienced.

It’s important to know the signs that labour could be close.

Article continues below >>

Mucus Plug

All women have a plug of mucus which sits inside the cervix protecting the womb against bacteria and infection. In late pregnancy, the cervix opens slightly and the mucus plug can slip out. It is usually slimy, tough and whitish/yellowish in colour. Sometimes it presents itself with a little blood, and after a few days, some may experience vaginal discharge too.

Spotting or Bleeding

It is not uncommon to see a little slimy, brownish or bright bloody vaginal discharge just prior to labour starting. It usually comes from the cervix. When it opens, it sometimes breaks some small blood vessels.


Contractions can be a sign that birth is starting. Unlike Braxton Hicks contractions, these will be closer together and more uncomfortable. Early contractions are designed to pull the cervix upwards and open it. At the beginning of labour contractions may be irregular. They can come with anything from 5 to 15 minute intervals and last for varying durations. Some are small and short and may last only a few seconds while others can last longer – up to 1 minute. Gradually over time they will find a pattern. The contractions will start to become regular and will last around the same time. It’s not unusual to feel discomfort or pain in the uterus, and perhaps lower back and down the thighs.

Waters Breaking

One of the most common signs that birth will soon begin is a leak from the amniotic sac. Once the sac begins to leak, water may gush quite suddenly, or it can seep slowly. Towards the end of pregnancy, one can feel in doubt about whether it is amniotic fluid that is leaking or whether it is urine, or if it is abundant vaginal discharge. Amniotic fluid has a characteristic odour, which you will probably notice. It will continue to leak if there is a hole in the amniotic sac. Amniotic fluid is clear. There are no nerves in the amniotic sac, so it does not hurt when there is a hole in it. Call your midwife if the amniotic fluid begins to trickle and they can give you an idea of what to do next.

When should I go to the hospital?

A normal birth can take up to 24 hours from the first contractions for a first time mother, however, second or subsequent labours can move very fast.

Call birthplace

As soon as you think that you are in labour, contact your midwife. While talking to you, the midwife can best advise you on your next steps. In the beginning you can safely walk around and behave as normally as you can. You may eat and drink as usual and you can, for example, take a hot bath. The relaxing effect can be great at this stage of birth.

It is better to go to hospital at a time when you do not need all your concentration on the labour. Give yourself a little time to acclimatise yourself to your environment and those who will be working closest with you during your labour. Being familiar with your delivery room and those who will be with you will make you more comfortable as the labour progresses. If possible, discuss with your midwife in advance what you expect and have your birth plan ready. If you feel strongly about your birth plan, make sure you have someone with you who can help enforce it should you not be able to.

Did you “know” you were in labour? What were the first signs you noticed?