Learn how to identify the early signs of labour that signify when labour is imminent.
If you are somewhere near the late third trimester of your pregnancy, you are probably eagerly waiting for a sign to tell you that labour is about to start. While some women develop very obvious signs to indicate that their labour has commenced, others may have a more subtle experience. Be alert for the following indicators, which are signs that labour has begun.
An early indicator of a pending labour may involve a change in the appearance of your abdomen. This occurs as your baby moves down from under your ribcage and settles in the pelvis in preparation for delivery. This sign is called ‘lightening’ as it is associated with a release of pressure on your diaphragm, and provides you with a sense of breathing a little easier.
As labour commences, you may experience a trickle, gush or flood of clear or pink-tinged fluid from your vagina. This spontaneous rupture of membranes (or ‘breaking of your waters’) occurs when the amniotic sac surrounding your baby ruptures. Some women are concerned that they may confuse their waters breaking with a ‘wee’ accident, as urinary incontinence can occur during late pregnancy.
However, bear in mind that amniotic fluid will not smell like urine. If you do notice an odour, as a safe measure it is best to mention this to your caregiver. Once your waters break, you must head to the hospital immediately.
Contractions and show
Labour contractions are a further sign to inform you that your baby is on her way. Although these may start off as vague lower back or period-type pains, as labour contractions develop, they will occur at regular but increasingly shorter intervals, and become more intense and longer as they progress.
Additionally, the thick mucus plug that sealed off your cervix throughout your pregnancy will come loose. At this time, you may notice the appearance of a bloodstained blob-like or stringy vaginal discharge. This is called the ‘show’ – however, despite its name, this sign may be missed if it is passed when you are on the toilet.
Before ‘true’ labour begins, you may have ‘false’ labour pains, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions. These irregular uterine contractions are perfectly normal and may start to occur in your second trimester, although more commonly in your third trimester of pregnancy. They are your body’s way of getting ready for the ‘real thing.’
Braxton Hicks contractions can be described as a tightening in the abdomen that comes and goes. These contractions do not get closer together, do not increase with walking, do not increase in duration, and do not feel stronger over time as they do when you are in true labour.
When to go to hospital?
- When your contraction pains become strong, regular and have formed a pattern.
- You may feel that it is now time to receive support from a midwife.
- If you feel uncomfortable or just generally unwell.
If any of the following occur, go straight to hospital:
1. If you have reduced baby movements.
2. If the waters break – this can be either a large ‘gush’ or little ‘trickle’ of fluid – even if you are not sure, go into the hospital.
3. Sometimes the waters may break without any pains. If this happens you should still go to the hospital. Many women labour within 24 hours of the waters going, but if not, an induction of labour may be discussed with you to reduce the risk of infection to you and/or your baby.
4. If the pressure sensation is building up and you are starting to feel like you need to push/empty your bowels.
5. If at any time you feel unwell.
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