signs of labour

As the birth approaches it’s common to think ‘Am I in labour?’ at every sign. You may have been experiencing Braxton Hicks, or ‘practice’ contractions for a while, but the contractions of labour should feel quite different. Here’s what you need to know.

What are contractions?

Contractions happen when the muscles of the uterus start to tighten and relax. The upper part of the uterus tightens and thickens, while the cervix softens, becoming thinner and flatter and gradually opening to allow the baby into the birth canal ready for delivery.

For many women contractions are one of the first recognisable signs of labour. They may begin as a pain or ache in the lower back or abdomen, and are sometimes described as similar to period pain.

How are they different from Braxton Hicks?

Unlike Braxton Hicks, labour contractions can be felt in other areas of your body, including your back, lower and upper abdomen and pelvis – and they won’t stop when your change position or relax.

Contractions come in ‘waves’, each one getting more intense until it peaks, and then slowly eases off, giving you and your baby a little rest before the next one. You should feel your abdomen become hard to the touch as the contraction reaches its peak, then become soft again as the uterus relaxes and the contraction subsides. To begin with they will be fairly spaced out – perhaps every 10 minutes or so, but will then become more regular, frequent and intense, lasting for longer each time.

Timing your contractions

Timing your contractions can be helpful to your midwife as it enables you to describe what’s happening in detail. Start counting from the beginning of one contraction to the start of the next. You can either write down the time each contraction starts and note how long it lasts, or count the number of seconds each contraction lasts.

In this early or latent phase of labour you should be able to distract yourself by taking a bath, going for a walk and carrying on as normal for as long as possible.

Active labour

Once the cervix has dilated to around 3 or 4cm you enter what is known as Established labour. This is when contractions become much more regular and may occur 3 or 4 minutes apart.

After 6 or 7cm contractions become more intense and painful and it may feel as though there is no rest between contractions at all. Breathing and relaxation techniques can help you cope with contractions at this stage, but you may also now start to consider your options for pain relief.

When the cervix is fully dilated to 10cm you enter the transitional phase which is when you begin to feel the urge to push the baby out. The Contractions now become a little less frequent, but much stronger, and last for longer.

Second stage of labour

As you enter the second stage of labour, you will feel the need to push with each contraction. With each push, your baby will move a little further down the birth canal, each time slipping back again as the contraction subsides. This pattern will repeat until your baby’s head becomes visible and you begin to take shorter, panting breaths as they are born.

Once your baby is born the contractions will start again to allow you to push the placenta out. This is known as the third stage of labour.


I m 32 weeks pregnant feeling anxious all the time .can't have a good night sleep always having weird dreams
I m 31 weeks pregnant .already got two daughters ,this time I m expecting a boy I m anxious about delivering a boy .any suggestions
im 31-3 weeks pregnant and started with pains all round and abdominal pain a week ago they was on and off every 2 mins and realli painful for about an hour to 2 hours then stopped then this happened again 2days later same thing and was crying with pain and then same thing happened last night (5 days later) at 1am till about 2 10am. is this normal this is my first pregnancy x w/b asap please x
my little girl is sooo soo active shes been moving from 4th month, since 5months shes kicking so much and hard but has calmed down now, im 23weeks with my 1st pregnanacy and im so nervous wat shal i pack plz help me, im scared of labour
i get bad pains on my top leg, wen i wake up in da morning i find it hard to walk
I'm 27 weeks with first child can not have good night I always wake up to pee 5, 6. the night my doctor said it's totally normal I don't can't sleep night .
I'm 33+6days for last 3days I'm getting bad tightening and feeling a bit weird down below I'm going away tomorrow I'm not sure to get checked out or not what do u think thanks
I was due last week Friday and I've been having contractions for more than a week now. I also noticed that the contractions has been more frequent since Friday that i hardly sleep at night, do you think i should call the hospital now?
Kayley, is this your first? Not every birth involves stiches hun so dont worry about that. Even if its not your first and you had stiches in the past does not mean every labour/birth will be the same. My first labour and birth was terrible and had stiches but the 2nd one went fine and i just kept an open mind. Had no stiches either! Im on my forth pregnancy and due in 5 weeks. As for visitors, if your not up to it and feel totally shatterd then just politly ask them to come bk another day, they will understand! xxx
I am 37weeks and have everything ready just waiting for the little madam, I am not scared about the labour it's the aftermath I am not looking forward to, like the stitches, the bleeding for days on end and being sleep deprived while looking after a screaming baby and also seeing visitors. I feel all mithered just thinking about it :(
I have little pain in my belly n my vagina iv got alot of goo and im confussed can anyone help or give me some advice im a few days away from 30 weeks
Hiya I'm 35+4 and having a lot of pain down there, got reffered to hosp last night and I have a water infection, but now tonight I'm getting a lot of pressure down there and tightenings, any suggestions on what this may be? X
I'm 30 weeks pregnant and I'm getting back pain and period type pain and there getting stronger as the day goes on. I've been to the hospital and they said that it was fine I'm not going into early labour but why am I getting this pain and they won't go away even with pain kills. Can somebody help me please
I am pregnant with my second child, I already have a little boy and now we are awaiting the arrival of his little sister :) (one of each lucky me) I have been told that your children get bigger than the last which is worrying me slightly as my lil man wasn't so little and weighed 9lb 2! So I would like to know if this is true? Any opinions mums of more than one?
hi i am 38 weeks tomoz on my 1st having a little girl im absoultly petrified dont know what to expect its not so much the pain im worried about but the fact shes got to come out of there lol really worried been taking rasberry leaf tea since 34weeks and going to have gas and air and epidural in labour any tips??
im 24 weeks feeling fine but our little girl doing well sweeled feet but she so active i dont care i love her very much xx
i have been told im in preterm labour i have had a contraction lasting 104 seconds what does this mean i had around 11 yesturday
my 1st is 8 this year and had a planned section with him never had and braxton hicks or contractions . my next is due in 13 weeks what should i expect to feel as im having a natural birth this time fingers crossed and just want to know what to expect ? has anyone had a natural birth after section as i am terriffied that my scar will re open :( can some one please help :)
hi morrissey i choose ava rose for my girl name and found out i was having another boy hope it helps x
not to worry vickylou, i am 25/6 and i started packing my bag the other day. this is my first and i am agreeing with most i am terrified, but excited also! i am looking forward to the no sleep, parenthood, hardwork etc but just so scared of the birth, i think how the hell is it possible to fit her out! lol. i am not even too worried about the pain, just having to push a baby out my v lol.. anyway in my bag so far i have, tissues, wipes, lots of nappies, babys going home outfit, shawl, preg notes next to the bag... next i am getting a big nightie for me, some plain baby sleepsuits, few vests, facewipes, mascara and foundation for after.. although i prob wont bother lol. oh and ive packed the camera lol x
I'm 29/2 weeks pregnant. This is my first baby, I'm feeling more and more nervous as I get closer to my due date. I've started to pack my bag ready but think I'm over thinking what I need. What would you say was essential? Thanks and good luck to everyone
i am reali scared but i dont know how ill react when i actually go into labour as im only 18 and 23wks gone i got ages but scared stiffless
I am due my first baby in 12 weeks, Im 28 weeks pregnant, I am really scared and don't know what to expect but on the other hand I just want him here and cant wait to have him!
I'm 35+5wks pregnant with twins this is my 3rd pregnancy for a few weeks now I've been getting BH's on and off they have gradually been getting more frequent and I have had 2hourly spells this week were they come every 10mins sometimes with a period like cramp sometimes painless just the tightening. At scan last Friday I was told baby 1's head was very low down and in a good position so low in fact she couldn't get any measurements. Last night from about 630pm till about 9ish I was getting the tightenings every 8mins then they wore off to about 30mins appart. I had pains during the night that woke me from my sleep (not that that takes much these days. Anyway at 3.08am I woke with crippling pain that came up over my bump and just kept coming stronger it felt like it wasn't going to go away. It reminded me of when I went into labor with my youngest. So there I was laying in bed half trying to get back to sleep half waiting on the next one but it didn't come. I got back to sleep and have only had the tightenings with no pain today. Could this have been babies head engaging?? With my first I was induced and with the second my first contraction came an hour after bloody show and were 4mins appart from the start.
started with contractions in bed lastnight at 35 weeks. they were different to the other braxton hicks. they started dull and after an hour they were every 4 minutes with tightening in the uterus and back. its like the pain starts dull then gets stronger and stronger before fading off. after about an hour and half i managed to get to sleep, i was so tired. dont know whether ive just overdone it over the past few weeks and need rest or the babies head was engaging, because i had quite alot of movement really down low. oh well i guess this can happen more the nearer my due date comes. xx
i am actually more scared about my second one than when i had my first,weird!
I love labour its the part i look forward to the most during my pregnancy. For the new mums i wouldnt feel so scared its the best feeling in the world i have done it twice 4 and noe due my third in july cannot wait
I'm thinking of having a Natural birth in august with my twin boys... I'm terrified!
delivering my 1st born end of next month... really nervous and dont knw what to expect... realllyyyy scared!!!
delivering my 1st born end of next month... really nervous and dont knw what to expect... realllyyyy scared!!!
I am pregnant with my first baby and i'm quite nervous about the birth. Any tips?
most of my labous wasnt to long my longest was 10hours and 50minutes. my wins labour was only 20 minutes.
Hi,I have no idea how it's feels to have Braxton hicks..I'm 31/5 weeks pregnant but haven't felt any pains..just a lot of heartburns from my stomach..lol is tihis normal?
is water birth or normal alot easyer and soother with gas and air coz that wot im going for?
hi does anyone know what it means if u have a sweep done and midwife puts in ur notes 2cms long
Hello. Im 39+2 and i feel like my contractions have become closer. But it only really painfull when im out with my husband. Its painfull generally. But cannot tell sometimes. I get pains in my legs and in my uterus. Please help.
Hello. Im 39+2 and i feel like my contractions have become closer. But it only really painfull when im out with my husband. Its painfull generally. But cannot tell sometimes. I get pains in my legs and in my uterus. Please help.
Hello. Im 39+2 and i feel like my contractions have become closer. But it only really painfull when im out with my husband. Its painfull generally. But cannot tell sometimes. I get pains in my legs and in my uterus. Please help.
hi..yes this can be normal i have 2 children.and am pregnant again only 3weeks gone..my first was my daughter i had a straight forward delivery in birthing pool,her contractions was in my stomach as are most women,but my second was my son and that was also a straight forward delivery in a birthing pool but his contractions was in my lower back and top of my bum then went into my legs also..this delivery im afraid to say was far more painful..so yes contractions in your back can be normal,,have your waters started to go yet?x
Hi, I'm 33 weeks on Friday as a first time mum I'm finding it hard to tell what is going on, the hospital told me I was having contractions, I could feel it getting tight but didn't know that it was contractions. The last couple of days I have had a really bad pain in my top left hand side of my back even to the point where it is hurting me to breath deep and is keeping me up durning the night which is making me really tired and drained, is this normal to have?? Thanks
I am 30+5 and since week i have contractions every day. Sometimes they are even every 10 min 30 sec - 2 min each and there is 4 within hour but after that they slowing down to 1 every hour or every 2 hours. Some of them painful some only pressure. Should I call midwife unit??
Can anyone tell me if I'm experiencing Braxton hicks. I'm 33 weeks and all of a sudden I just started feeling dull cramps in my lower abdomen then it felt like my stomach went really tight for a few seconds and then realeased. The dull cramp doesn't go away but the tightening comes and go's. This is my first baby and just not sure so if someone could reply it would really help me.
I have been getting tons of braxton hicks but I am also getting little one resting on my sciatic nerve at the inside of my leg up near my vagin* soz for tmi .. well it is extremely paifil and at times I have to immediately sit down or I callapse - I am 36 + 5 - I am 37 on monday EDD 14 november 2011 - Is this the starting of her preparing to commence labour ready for birth - anyone any advice?
waters broke just over 5 hours ago, got checked out at hospital, and back at home waiting for things to kick in....few irregular contractions....been booked in for sunday am to be induced if not already in full labour....im 38 + 2 days.....wish me luck!!!
Well im only 33 wks 6 days and ive have been experiencing braxton hicks, well i can take the tighning of my tummy but a get a burst of pain with it which sometimes brings tears to my eyes, this is my first pregnancy so i am crapping myself with actual contractions.
1st time mammy last night i had quite intense contractions along with dioreha (not quite dioreha as such but very loose) sorry about the tmi and also lower back pain..this all lasted around 4hours from 2am-6am with the contractions being very regular (between 7-10mins and lasting a good 60secs) they stopped after this and ive just been getting milder ones on & off all morning along with abit of back ache but my stomach seems to be making alot of noise. im 38+4 so i dont know wether it could be a sign or not did anyone else experience anything similar???? ty :)
5 days ago I experience contraction similar to period pain couple with back pain and pain in the upper thigh, it lasted for an hour before subsiding and started again after 5 mins which lasted for 30 mins. I had an appointment with my consultant and told her about the pain the very next day and was worried about UTI as my previous pregnancy I had similar experience. I went into labour at 35 weeks. A week after the contraction started. She said that my urine was clean and that I'm suppose to come in again should any contraction starts. Yesterday, again, I started to have another contraction which lasted 30 mins with 5 mins relax and followed by another 30 mins. I'm worried, I'm now 34 weeks pregnant. The problem is the contraction doesn't last long enough unlike previous pregnancy and if I go to the antenatal clinic they couldn't do anything as there was no more pain. Does anyone have similar experience?
i like the name Niamh
can some1 help me choose a nice name for a girl please, really struggling to think, thanks xx
For the past 4 days now, i having been having a sleepless night due to back pain, but yesteday i experienced contraction which comes and go every 10 minutes. I was very scared because i am just 34weeks. I took paracetamol to reduce the pain and it worked for me, but i am still scared because i thought contraction starts at 37weeks, WHY NOW?