How does labour start?

It could happen any week now! But how can you tell when labour starts? There's one reliable indicator: regular contractions.

In fact, labour started a couple of weeks ago when hormones started softening up the cervix. This is followed by pre-labour contractions, which become more frequent until it's finally time and the child is ready to meet the world. But it's not always easy to determine when to go into hospital.

Three contractions every 10 minutes
Your belly will contract and become as hard as a rock at regular intervals. As long as the contractions remain short and irregular , it is likely that they are only pre-labour contractions. When the real contractions start, contact your midwife or the maternity clinic to find out when you should go to hospital. As a rule of thumb, call the hospital when you start getting about three contractions every ten minutes.

The breaking of the waters doesn't necessarily mean labour is starting
In the films, labour usually starts with the waters breaking. It looks dramatic on film, but in real life the process is usually more gradual. The water runs rather than gushes out. Labour can also start without the waters breaking. There is really only one sure sign that labour has started: the contractions come at regular intervals and are increasingly stronger and more frequent.

Stay at home as long as it feels okay
As the contractions become more regular and frequent, they also become increasingly painful. The cervix expands and the pain increases. At this point, call your midwife at the maternity clinic for advice. Is there a place in the maternity ward? Should we go now? Have you packed your bag for the hospital? Read more about going into hospital to give birth.
Stay at home as long as you feel okay with it. Many expecting mothers prefer to stay at home until labour becomes more intensive, in which case they usually want a midwife there for support. Other women choose to go into hospital as soon as possible. It all depends on individual preference; there's no right or wrong.

A few weeks before – or after – the due date
The baby may be born a few weeks before or after the estimated due date. During the weeks around this date, you should be prepared for labour to start. It can happen when you least expect it.
Sometimes the baby is born several weeks early. Read about preterm babies. But at this stage, most mothers actually look forward to have the pregnancy over and done with.
Of course, you baby might also be born two weeks late... Read more about going over term or inducing labour. If the baby is much later than expected, the extra wait can be a trying time. But hang in there - it won't be long now.
Good luck!

Download our free app, The Pregnancy Book. There you will find more tips, advice and information about labour.

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