Pregnancy week by week



Signs of labour


Knowing what may happen during labour will help you feel prepared. Labour is different for every woman and often for every baby she has. Labour can be divided into three stages. Knowing what is likely to happen during each stage will help you plan and prepare for your baby's arrival.

In the last few weeks, you may have been feeling mild contractions, known as Braxton Hicks contractions. This is where your abdomen gets tight then relaxes. Now, you may become aware of a pattern starting to occur, for example every 20-30 minutes. They may last 30 seconds; gradually these contractions will become stronger, more frequent, and start to last longer. You will know that the labour is really getting going when the contractions start coming every 5 minutes or every 10 minutes if this is not your first baby.
Once in hospital, your doctor will first check when your contractions began and how often they are coming. She will do an abdominal examination to check the position of your baby and to be certain that baby is coming head first. The doctor will then do an internal examination to see how much the cervix has opened. Before labour begins, your cervix is about 3 cm long and closed. She can then from this assessment how far in labour you are and proceed accordingly.

Our checklist will help you decide whether it’s the real thing. If this is your first baby, it’s easy to think “this is it”, only to find you are just getting ready for labour. In the week or so before labour you may notice:
  • An increase in vaginal discharge
  • “Show”: this can happen either before labour starts (up to one week prior) or in the early stages of labour. The mucus plug in the cervix, which has helped to seal the uterus, gradually comes away and out of the vagina. It appears like sticky pink red mucus, sometimes mixed with a little blood. This small amount of sticky pink mucus is called a show. If you are losing a lot of blood, it may be a sign that something is wrong; call your doctor right away.

  • A need to get things ready-the so-called nesting instinct

  • Feeling quite emotional; crying for no reason as your hormones get to you

  • A sense that you don’t want to be far from home

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea

  • Braxton Hicks contractions that feel like tightening or period pains

When you go into labour you may notice:

  • The “show” if it has not come away earlier if accompanied with regular contractions or rupture of membranes.

  • The waters breaking: the bag of water surrounding your baby may break before labour starts.  Sometimes the waters break before the beginning of the contractions or, more commonly, once labour is under way. You will notice either a slow trickle from your vagina or a sudden gush of water that you can’t control. If the waters go with a gush, contact your doctor right away. You may be asked to go into hospital immediately. Put on a sanitary towel and keep an eye on the colour of the fluid. It will help your doctor, if you can remember when the waters broke, roughly how much fluid there was and what colour it was. Amniotic fluid is usually pale straw coloured. If it is green or has black bits in it, this may show that the baby is, or has been in distress. You should inform your doctor and go straight in.

  • Sometimes you just notice a slow trickle from vagina which can be hard to differentiate from urine (especially if you are having urine leaks in late pregnancy). Put a sanitary pad on and, if it is wet after an hour, it’s probably the water leaking. If you are still not sure, contact your doctor.

  • Low back pain as the baby settles well down

  • Regular contractions that could feel like period pains or tightening pain across your bump. When you are having regular contractions that last more than 30 seconds and begin to feel stronger, labour may have started. Your contractions will become longer, stronger and more frequent. The contractions cause the baby’s head to be pressed down through the pelvis and against the inside of the cervix. This causes the cervix to dilate allowing the baby’s head to descend into the vagina.




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