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Am I in Labour?

By: Rachel Newcombe - Updated: 20 Jun 2011 | comments*Discuss
Maternity Pregnant Pregnancy Contract

Some people might assume it’s obvious when you’re in labour and you’ll definitely know, but in reality it’s not always so clear cut. If you’re worried about knowing for sure when you’ve Gone Into Labour and want to avoid rushing to the hospital too soon, here are some tips and hints for signs to look out for.

Labour can begin at any time and catch you unawares, when you least expect it. For first-time mums, it can be a real worry to think about when it might happen, how you’ll know and how you’ll cope. But even women having babies for the second time or more can have concerns about it. The way labour comes on can differ from one pregnancy to the next, so even if you’re geared up for and looking out for the same signs you experienced last time, it may be completely different.

Breaking Waters

It can sometimes be hard to tell if your waters have actually broken, especially if you’re having mild bladder incontinence, too. If it does smell like urine, then it’s unlikely to be your actual waters.

If your waters have broken, but only produced a trickle of clear or light coloured water, it may be a while before labour begins in earnest. If you’re unsure, then phone and speak to a midwife, but if nothing else seems to be happening, you’re probably safe to stay at home and rest until it does. Contractions usually begin within the next 24 hours.

However, if your waters have broken with a big gush of water, your baby is likely to be well on the way. Phone the midwife and get someone to take you straight in to the maternity unit.

If you notice that your waters are a dark green or muddy colour when they break, this could be a sign of baby poo. If this has happened, it’s important seek advice and go to the maternity unit straightaway. (For more information, read our article What Happens When My Waters Break? in this section.)

Experiencing a Show

In pregnancy terms, a show is when the mucus plugging the cervix comes loose and drops out of the vagina. The show is thick, looks a bit like jelly and may be pink with a bit of blood. Sometimes you may notice it as you go to the toilet, but sometimes it can come away without you noticing.

Loosing the show is a good indication that your body is getting ready for labour, but the actual onset of labour may still be up to a week away. So look out for your show, but don’t rush to the hospital straightaway if it occurs.


One of the most common signs that labour has started is the sudden experience of contractions. In the final few weeks of pregnancy, some women have Braxton Hicks contractions, which are a sort of practice for labour and come on an irregular basis and aren’t usually painful. So, if you experience mild contractions a while before your due date, it’s possibly they could be Braxton Hicks contractions. However, it’s also possible to have mild and irregular contractions at the very start of labour, too. If your due date is looming, then try to get some rest and stay comfortable.

If your contractions become longer, more painful and occur at regular intervals, then this is a definite sign of labour. You should now start to monitor their occurrence – as you’ll have been taught to do at your antenatal classes – and make a note of how often they occur and the time between each contraction. If you need extra reassurance, you could phone your midwife at this point, but they may not want you to go into hospital until the contractions get stronger and more frequent.

If you’re getting the urge to push, this indicates that you may well be in an advanced stage of labour already. Although you can pass through the other stages before reaching this point, for some women it does come on quicker than others. At this point, you should phone the midwife or maternity unit and get someone to take you in.

Still Not Sure?

If you’re still not sure whether or not you’re in labour, don’t sit and worry on your own. Phone your midwife or maternity unit, as they’ll be only too happy to help answer any queries and put your mind at rest.

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