“How will I know if I’m going into labour?” This is a common question many new mums have as their due dates approach. Contrary to what the movies suggest, early signs of labour include more than having your water breaking. And aside from that obvious sign, the varying symptoms can be easily confused – is baby really on its way or is it a false alarm?
While every pregnancy and birth is unique, there are common signs that labour has truly begun. Mummies-to-be, here are six early labour symptoms to look out for to know if baby is ready to meet the world.
The three stages of labour
There are three distinct stages of labour – pre-labour or early labour, pushing and after the baby has been delivered. The first can begin as early as a month before the due date and continues with active labour (where the cervix dilates from four to 10cm). Once fully dilated, labour progresses to pushing. The third stage, also known as afterbirth, is where the new mum delivers her placenta after a vaginal bath. This can last from five to 20 minutes or more.
#1 Engagement (or “lightening”)
A few weeks before labour begins, first-time mummies can expect to see the baby start to “drop” or descend into the pelvis area. There’s nothing to worry about because this is a sign that baby is getting into position ahead of its exit. For subsequent births, this symptom may not happen until you are well into labour.
#2 Having increased backache and cramps
Similar to period cramps, many women experience lower backache or dull throbbing pain that comes from the baby rotating into the right position for labour. You may also feel your muscles and joints stretching and shifting (less tightness, more relaxed) as your body prepares for birth.
#3 Increasingly intense pre-labour contractions
During pre-labour, some women may experience mild or moderate contractions that happen at irregular intervals (15 to 30 minutes apart). As actual labour begins, contractions occur more frequently at progressive intervals (five to 10 minutes apart), and they get more intense. With real contractions, you may spot other common labour signs such as bloody show, losing the mucous plug and of course, having your water breaking.
#4 Losing the mucous plug
The mucous plug is a clear, gelatinous glob of mucus, which acts quite literally as a barrier that seals the cervix (the opening of your uterus) during pregnancy. Losing it is a sign of a softening cervix as the body opens up to prepare for childbirth. While it varies from mummy to mummy, some may lose their mucous plug weeks before labour, while others do so right as it starts. With that being said, some women may not notice the plug passing as it can come out in bits and pieces over time.
#5 Experiencing bloody show
A normal pre-labour sign if you’re close to your due date, Bloody show is a discharge tinged brown or pink with blood. This happens as the cervix starts to dilate and thin out (efface). Upon experiencing this, mummies can expect to go into labour within the next day or so. Unlike passing the mucous plug, which is an indication that labour might be approaching, passing bloody show definitely means that the baby is almost ready to arrive.
#6 Your water breaks
The most obvious and final sign of labour, you’ll be surprised to know that water breaking happens in only around 15 per cent of births or fewer. So do bear in mind the other symptoms on this list to help gauge if you’re in pre-labour.