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Signs of impending labour

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Early labour signs

First signs of impending labour

Many mums in their third trimester will find themselves counting down the hours (even minutes!) until their first signs of labour come along. While it can be an eager wait for some, other mums are happy to wait as long as it takes. When labour does eventually set in though, that’s when the real action starts...

Here’s our guide to some of the most common pre-labour signs to look out for:

Signs of labour

Cramping and backache

Many women experience slight cramping (similar to period pain) at the start of the first stage of labour. If labour’s on the way, these will then begin to increase in length and intensity. Typically, this will also be accompanied by some back pain.


These intervals of cramping and backache can indeed be the start of contractions, or early labour. If they’re mild, ignore them for as long as possible. Only start to time them when they’re stronger, longer and closer together. As a general rule, if they are 1 minute long and occurring at regular intervals 3-5 minutes apart, this is a good sign you’re in labour! To time them, get your partner to count the seconds between the start and the end of each one. Then time the minutes in between.

Waters breaking

Probably the most obvious of all pre-labour signs is when your waters break, or when your amniotic fluid releases. As common as it sounds, it’s only the first sign of labour in about 15-20% of pregnancies – many mums have their waters broken in hospital. But once your waters have broken, it’s definitely time to notify your hospital and doctor, because there are times when women break their waters but don’t go into labour. You’ll notice an uncontrollable trickle or gush, or a large amount of fluid that your panty liners won’t be able to hold.

The ‘show’

This is when your mucus plug, which has been protecting your baby by blocking the opening of your cervix, comes away. You’ll notice a jelly-like blob in your undies about the size of a 50-cent coin, with a brown, red or pink tinge. It may come a few days in advance of labour too, so you’ll know that it’s on the way.


This sometimes happens in the early stages of labour, as the body makes room for what’s about to happen. The bowels can also open during labour – it’s not really something that’s talked about, but if it happens, let it happen. It’s normal and not something to worry about. Rest assured your midwifes have seen just about everything!

When to go to hospital?

According to research, the best place to spend early labour is right at home in your own surroundings*. Here you have the comfort and freedom to do what feels right for you – eat, sleep, move at your own pace – groan as loudly as you want to! Always listen to your body and if you feel like you might need to make the move, call the hospital ahead of time to ask any questions and keep them updated.

Make sure you contact your hospital if:

  • Your waters break
  • You have bright red vaginal bleeding
  • Contractions are closer than 5 minutes apart, more than 30 seconds long
  • You need pain relief
  • You’re frightened or unsure
  • You can’t feel baby moving or movements are less than normal

Call the hospital as much as you need to if you’re worried or unsure, and always try to call before you decide to go in. But before all of this happens, familiarise yourself with the different stages of labour here!


*Royal Women’s Hospital, Victoria, Australia.

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