Am I in labour?

How will you know when you’re really in labour? Here are some signs to watch out for.

When will I go into labour?

Answer: Generally speaking, your due date is a rough estimate of when your baby will be born – unfortunately, there’s no way to predict precisely when your little one will arrive (unless you’re having a scheduled Caesarean section, of course). 90% of pregnant mums go into labour between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy, but only five percent of mums deliver on their baby’s due date. Some are induced, some have planned C-sections, and still others give birth prematurely (before 37 weeks gestation). To put it simply, your baby will come when it’s good and ready – even if that date is one decided upon in conjunction with your LMC.

How do I know if my contractions are the real thing?

Answer: Labour contractions are different from Braxton-Hicks contractions in a few distinct ways. They’re centred in your pelvis – many women describe them as period-like cramps, but worse. They will start off being quite irregular, but will soon settle into a pattern, and will increase and decrease as your baby moves around. If they start to increase in intensity, duration, and closeness, you are probably in labour. Call your midwife if you think this is the case!

What is “false labour”, and how do I know if that’s what I’m experiencing?

Answer: Braxton-Hicks contractions are “practise” contractions that many pregnant mums mistake for the real thing. They are what’s known as “non-productive” contractions, because, well, they don’t result in birth – they’re merely annoying and painful for some women. Braxton-Hicks contractions are usually irregular, happen in your abdomen rather than down low in your pelvis, don’t get worse or more painful over time the way “real” contractions do, don’t increase in intensity and duration, and don’t keep you from being able to carry on a conversation. Braxton-Hicks contractions also usually recede if you stand up and walk around.

What are some early signs of labour to look out for?

Answer: Many of the earliest signs of labour are so subtle that you won’t realise until afterward that your body was telling you the time had come! Here are some things to look out for:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhoea. By the end of your third trimester, morning sickness should be a distant memory – and then one day, suddenly, you may find yourself heaving up your dinner or running to the toilet. While nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea can occur in late pregnancy because your growing baby is crowding your gastrointestinal system, these are also early signs of labour.
  • Lower back pain. 80% of pregnant women experience back pain during labour, and this can often begin as a tingling soreness or cramping which starts in your lower back and moves forward to your pelvis. “Back labour” will feel like severe discomfort in your lower back, which hurts the most during contractions and can also be painful during contractions too.
  • Cramps. Labour contractions can begin with back pain, pressure, and cramping in your lower pelvis – like period cramps.
  • Losing the mucous plug. If you go to the toilet and wipe, and then find a jelly-like substance streaked with a little bit of blood on the toilet paper, you may have lost your mucous plug. This is the thick membrane that blocks the entrance to your cervix, which your body sheds to prepare for labour. It might come out all at once, or a little at a time (like a thick discharge). If your mucous plug is accompanied by bright red blood, bleeding, or liquid discharge (your “waters”) that keeps leaking, contact your midwife.

How do I know if I’m in active labour?

Answer: “Active labour” is the time when you want to call the midwife for instruction, and have your partner on standby to take you into hospital or the birthing centre. This means that your baby is on its way! Here are some signs you’ve progressed from early labour to active labour:

  • Your waters break. You may feel like you’ve wet yourself, or you may just have wet underwear – when your waters break, it’s not like a balloon popping under your clothes; it’s more like a gushing sensation, or a slow trickle. If you squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and you can’t stop or control the leaking, then it’s probably not urine – it’s your waters, or the amniotic fluid which your baby has been swimming in. However, keep in mind that not all women experience their waters breaking early in active labour. If your waters break and you’re experiencing contractions, this is definitely a sign of labour – but if your waters have broken and you’re not contracting yet, your midwife may want you to wait a bit longer before coming into hospital. Your waters should be pale straw-coloured – if they’re red, brown, or green, contact your LMC straightaway.
  • Regular contractions. Irritatingly, contractions can stop and start – sometimes days before you actually give birth. But once that vague crampy feeling turns into regular contractions that increase in intensity, duration, and closeness together, you’re in labour. Your midwife will have a guide as to when she wants you to come into hospital, so check with her before you head in.

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BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.

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