- Your waters break
- Heartburn relief
- You have a ‘show’
- Your nipples leak
- Swollen down below
- Frequent toilet stops
- Sudden burst of energy
- Walking differently
Expecting a dramatic Call The Midwife-style birth? Relax. Most labours begin gently, gradually developing over hours or even days (sorry!). Make a mental checklist of these early clues that let you know it’s really happening:
Labour signs: Your waters break
Otherwise known as the moment the sac of amniotic fluid surrounding your baby ruptures. This can happen as an all-in-one gush, or a slow trickle that lasts a few days. Your waters can break any time during labour or birth, or they may be broken by a midwife to help kick-start labour.
Your waters can break any time during labour or birth
If your waters do break, call the maternity unit. Once your waters break, you’re at risk of infection, so the midwives may want you to go in. They will also ask you about the fluid: it should be a straw-like colour and have a sweet odour. If your waters are green, your baby may have emptied her bowels, a sign of distress, and you’ll need to go to hospital to be checked over.
Labour signs: Heartburn relief
As your bump grows, your baby will push your stomach upwards. This forces acid in your stomach into your windpipe, causing heartburn. ‘Luckily, in the weeks running up to your due date, you may notice symptoms get slightly better,’ says midwife Helen Taylor. ‘This is because your baby has dropped, which means he’s moved down into your pelvis ready for birth.’
You may also find that you can breathe more easily because your baby isn’t pushing against your lungs and decreasing their capacity. Read more tips to beat indigestion here.
Labour signs: You have backache
An ache in your lower back can mean your baby is rotating into the right position for labour. ‘This can take a few days and may be painful,’ says antenatal teacher Philippa Bennett. ‘It could also be the start of your contractions – some women experience them more in their back than their stomach.’p>
An ache in your lower back can mean your baby is rotating into the right position for labour
Get through the discomfort by taking the recommended dose of paracetamol, then put your feet up, ask your partner for a back rub and have warm a bath.
Labour signs: You have a ‘show’
A mucus plug covers your cervix in pregnancy and this may come loose up to a few days before labour starts. A brown, pink or red-tinged stringy or jelly-like discharge, it can come out either in one lump or more gradually over a few days.
Speak to a midwife just to make sure you’re not bleeding,’ says Philippa. If it’s bright red or the discharge starts to look heavy, head to hospital. If your midwife is happy, just eat, sleep and relax before things really get going.
Labour signs: Your nipples leak
It’s not just during breastfeeding that nipples can leak – it’s all throughout your final trimester. That said, you’ll probably notice it most in the last few weeks before your baby arrives. The milk you’re leaking is colostrum, a nutrient-rich liquid that will nourish your baby until your proper milk comes in a couple of days after the birth.
If you’re getting wet patches on your clothes, buy some disposable breast pads that you can pop inside your bra.
Labour signs: Diarrhoea
The hormones that help your uterus contract can also sometimes cause diarrhoea in the hours before birth.
The hormones that help your uterus contract can also sometimes cause diarrhoea in the hours before birth
Labour signs: Swollen down below
Pregnancy has a tendency to leave you feeling swollen in different areas of your body (cankles, anyone?), and that includes your labia at the entrance to your vagina.
‘It can be disconcerting, but it’s very normal,’ says Dr Beckett. ‘It’s caused by the increase in blood volume in your body. When your baby moves down into your pelvis, generally after week 37, it also puts more pressure around your vagina, making it feel swollen.’
Ease any discomfort by placing an ice pack in a clean tea towel and resting it on the area.
Labour signs: Frequent toilet stops
With a growing baby bump that presses on your bladder, you’ll find you need to pee more regularly during pregnancy. But this could increase even further in the final week before birth, as your baby positions himself in your pelvis.
Labour signs: Sudden burst of energy
If getting up off the sofa is about as much activity as you can manage for most of your last trimester, the sudden spurt of energy you get in the days before labour starts (and the urge to clean out your kitchen cupboards) is often a not-unpleasant surprise.
Make the most of it! Sort out the house, organise your baby’s clothes and set up a few change stations ready for her arrival home.
Labour signs: Walking differently
If your gait has started to resemble a cross between a cowboy and a duck, (attractive!) it could well be a sign your baby will soon be arriving. ‘Your pelvis widens in preparation for birth, which can affect the way you walk,’ says independent midwife Virginia Howes.
If your walk has changed and you’re also experiencing discomfort, it could be a sign of pelvic girdle pain (PGP). ‘Talk to your GP who may refer you to a physiotherapist. They can teach you exercises or provide a special belt to help support your pelvis,’ says Virginia.
Labour signs: Contractions
Firstly, are you sure these aren’t Braxton Hicks? ‘These short, painless, tightening sensations mean your uterus is gearing up for labour,’ says Erika. Real contractions tend to start weak, perhaps feeling like period pain, then grow in frequency and intensity.
‘Don’t rush to hospital, but do let the unit know what’s happening,’ says Philippa. Instead, take the recommended dose of paracetamol and try to chill out. Established labour is usually when you have three, one-minute contractions in the space of 10 minutes. When the contractions become so intense, you struggle to talk, you’ll know it’s definitely time to head to hospital.
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