What are the signs of labour?

A big question on all pregnant mama’s minds is, when will I go into labour and what will it feel like.

The interesting thing with labour is that it’s different for everyone. 

Some women have days of surges on and off and others have surges that start then don’t stop until the baby comes. Some women have their membranes release first and others have them release deep into labour.

Below are some signs you can look for when waiting for labour.

Uterine Seal (Mucous Plug)

The uterine seal is a collection of cervical fluid that has accumulated in the cervix at the moment of conception, then thickened. It forms a protective seal between the baby and the vagina.

At some point during the last days or weeks of pregnancy, the uterine seal will make it’s way out as the cervix begins to thin and open.

The uterine seal can regenerate and some women lose this during the second or third trimester but it regrows before the birth. Some women lose it the day before labour or during labour itself.

The seal is mucousy, hence it’s more common name, mucous plug. It can be clear, white or if it’s mixed with the birth show, brown, red or pink. It can come out all at once or slowly in smaller sections.

Birth Show (Bloody Show)

Often the birth show and uterine seal get lumped in together as the same thing however they are actually different. You may experience them both separately or at the same time, hence the confusion.

As the cervix begins to ‘ripen’, capillaries can often burst causing some light bleeding, often bright red in colour. The cervix changes a lot in the early stages of labour or even before labour starts. It softens, thins and shortens before it actually starts to open. When this happens, bleeding can occur.

If the bleeding happens at the same time the uterine seal is getting ready to dislodge, then the seal can look brown, red or pink.

With any bleeding in pregnancy, if you are worried, please contact your care provider. Keep an eye on the amount and also note your gestation. If you are after 37 weeks, it would appear that labour is close!

Bleeding can also happen after a cervical exam, a stretch and sweep or sexual intercourse.

Membranes Release (Water Breaking)

Around 8-10% of women will have membranes releasing as the first sign of labour. Of that small number, 45% will be labour within 12 hours, and then between 77-95% of women will be in labour within 24 hours. So it’s fair to say, labour will be close.

Membranes can release in a trickle or a gush. Interestingly a trickle is more common although the movies would lead us to believe it’s always a huge, embarrassing waterfall of fluid!

When it’s a trickle of fluid with each surge, it tends to mean that the hind waters have broken around the baby’s body. Each squeeze of the surge, brings a little more fluid out.

When it’s a gush, it’s the fore waters around the baby’s head. Gravity brings all that fluid out at once. For most women, the fore waters release closer to the baby’s birth, during active labour.

The fluid should be clear or a light pink and funnily, apparently smells a little like semen!

Surges (Contractions)

The tightening of the uterine muscles is a great sign that labour is happening. As the different muscle layers start to do their thing and work at opening the cervix, mum will experience sensations on a regular basis. In early labour, surges may be quite short (15 to 45 seconds) and quite spaced out (between 5 and 30 minutes apart). They will eventually get more rhythmic, closer together and longer.


Our beautiful hormone Relaxin which soften the pelvis, the uterine muscles and the baby’s body, can also relax the bowel. Some women will experience loose bowel motions in the days or weeks leading up to labour, or some the day of. Whilst it might be annoying, it can be looked at as nature’s way of clearing out the body, making as much space for that baby in the pelvis as possible.

Back Ache

Occasionally women will experience a lower backache, possibly similar to back ache’s felt during their menstruation.

Change in Emotions

Rachel Reid talks beautiful about the Rite of Passage that childbirth is. For any rite of passage, the first step is ‘Separation’. During this stage of pregnancy/early labour, a woman feels the need to withdraw.  She focuses less on the outside world, and more on herself.  She will want to reduce the external stimulation that the outside world brings. If she can’t do this, she may feel grumpy, frustrated or sad. A change in emotions for no apparent reason can often mean that those labour hormones are beginning production.




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