How will I know that labour is starting?

What are the signs that labour is starting?

Showing New-born to Mother
Showing New-born to Mother


Signs that labour is starting? For expectant mothers, one of the most anticipated moments is the onset of labour. However, recognizing the signs that labour is starting can be both exciting and overwhelming. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the various indicators that signify the onset of labour.

Understanding the Stages of Labor:

Before delving into the signs of labour, it’s essential to grasp the stages of labour. Labour is typically divided into three main stages:

First Stage

  1. Early Labour (Latent Phase): This is the initial phase characterized by mild contractions that gradually become stronger and more regular. During this stage, the cervix begins to efface (thin out) and dilate (open).
  2. Active Labour: In this phase, contractions intensify, and the cervix continues to dilate. Active labour is marked by more frequent and intense contractions, typically lasting 45-60 seconds and occurring every 3-5 minutes.
  3. Transition Phase: The transition phase is the shortest yet most intense stage of labour. Contractions reach their peak intensity, and the cervix fully dilates (10 centimetres) to prepare for childbirth.

Second Stage

The second stage of labour commences with complete cervical dilation to 10 centimetres and ends with the delivery of the baby.

Third Stage

The 3rd stage of labour is after the baby is born, when the womb contracts and the placenta (the afterbirth) is delivered. 

With a basic understanding of the stages of labour, let’s explore the signs that labour is starting:

Signs That Labour Is Starting:

  1. Bloody Show: The appearance of a pink or brown-tinged discharge, known as the bloody show, is a common sign that labour is imminent. This discharge results from the passage of the mucus plug, which seals the cervix during pregnancy. As the cervix begins to dilate and efface in preparation for childbirth, the mucus plug is expelled, signalling the onset of labour.
  2. Contractions: Contractions are perhaps the most recognizable sign of labour. These rhythmic tightening and releasing of the uterine muscles help to thin and dilate the cervix, facilitating the passage of the baby through the birth canal. Unlike Braxton Hicks contractions, which are irregular and often painless, true labour contractions become increasingly regular, intense, and closer together over time.
  3. Water Breaking: The rupture of the amniotic sac, commonly referred to as the water breaking, is another unmistakable sign of labour. This may manifest as a sudden gush of fluid or a slow trickle, indicating that the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby has begun to leak. It’s important to note that few women experience their water breaking before labour begins, more commonly to occur spontaneously during active labour. Film and TV dramas that include pregnancy often show a massive gush of liquid over furniture and floor – this may constitute drama but is not the usual first sign of labour.
  4. Back Pain: Many women experience lower back pain or discomfort as labour approaches. This occurs as the baby moves into position for birth, putting pressure on the spine and surrounding muscles. Back labour, characterized by intense back pain during contractions, is more common in posterior presentations where the baby’s back is aligned with the mother’s spine.
  5. Cervical Changes: As labour progresses, the cervix undergoes significant changes in preparation for childbirth. These changes can be assessed through cervical dilation (opening of the cervix) and effacement (thinning of the cervix). During a vaginal examination, healthcare providers can determine the degree of cervical dilation and effacement, providing valuable insights into the progression of labour.


The signs that labour is starting vary from woman to woman and may be different in each pregnancy. While recognizing these signs can help expectant parents prepare for childbirth, it’s essential to remember that labour is a unique and individual experience. Maintaining open communication with healthcare providers and having a birth plan in place can help alleviate anxiety and ensure a smooth transition into labour and delivery. By understanding the signs of labour, expectant parents can approach this experience with confidence.


1.         American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). (2015). “Obstetric Care Consensus: Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery.” Obstetrics & Gynecology, 125(4), 963-972.

2.         Simkin, P., Ancheta, R. (2010). “The Labor Progress Handbook: Early Interventions to Prevent and Treat Dystocia.” John Wiley & Sons.

3.         World Health Organization (WHO). (2018). “WHO recommendations: Intrapartum care for a positive childbirth experience.” WHO Press.


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