Giving birth

11 of the most common signs of labour to watch out for

Did you know nausea is one of the early signs of labour? Here are eight signs of active labour that you should watch out for.

11 of the most common signs of labour to watch out for

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As you approach your due date, every cramp and discomfort can make you wonder: Is this is it? Am I in labour? Is nausea a sign of labour approaching? The truth is, getting that baby out of you is a long process—even if your actual labour is blessedly speedy—and your body starts to prepare weeks before the real deal starts. Here are some signs of labour that you might experience in the lead up to your baby’s arrival.

Early signs: clumsiness

As the big day approaches, your body is preparing for labour, and your center of gravity is shifting. This can make you more prone to stumbling or dropping things. Hormones like relaxin also play a part: they loosen up your joints and ligaments in preparation for the main event. So if you're nearing your due date and suddenly feel like a gangly pre-teen all over again, don't worry! It might just be a sign that baby's arrival is close!

pregnant woman falling comzeal / Getty Images

Early signs: more fatigue than usual

When the big day is close, expectant moms might find themselves even more fatigued than usual. While it's common to be tired during pregnancy, this type of exhaustion is often more pronounced as labour approaches. If you're nearing your due date and find yourself struggling to keep your eyes open, don't be too surprised. It could be a hint that your little one is getting ready to make their grand entrance.

pregnant woman looking unwell at home PeopleImages / Getty Images


An increase in Braxton Hicks

These ‘practice’ contractions can start as early as 24 weeks, and are simply a tightening of the uterus. You may feel your entire abdomen harden, and then relax again. These contractions can be uncomfortable, but are typically not painful. Towards the end of your pregnancy they may come more frequently—though they're not necessarily an early sign of labour.

Pregnant woman in pain breathing heavily while resting on couch Fly View Productions / Getty Images

Your baby dropping (also known as lightening)

Your baby might start moving lower into your pelvis as he gets ready to come out. This can be especially noticeable if your baby has been positioned right under your rib cage for the last few weeks. Expect people to exclaim ‘the baby has dropped!’ when they see you.

woman holding her pregnant tummy urbazon / Getty Images

Nausea, or loose stools

Thought nausea was just in the first trimester? Unfortunately, some women experience it again as labour nears. You might also notice loose stools or diarrhea—all of your muscles start to loosen as you approach labour, and your rectum is one of them (though not every woman will experience this).

You know things are starting to get real if you experience any of the following signs of labour:

Nauseated Pregnant Woman Suffering from Morning Sickness nicoletaionescu / Getty Images


You lose the mucus plug

Mucus near the cervix protects the baby from bacteria. As the cervix begins to soften and dilate you can get a mucus discharge—it can be clear or blood tinged—and it might come out right before active labour starts, or days before. Not every mom-to-be notices her mucus plug coming out.

Gynecologist talks to a patient with a model of the female reproductive system in her hands.Women's health, pregnancy planning,pathology of internal organs Tatiana Buzmakova / Getty Images

Your cervix is dilating

Towards the end of your pregnancy, you will see your doctor or midwife more often, and she might check to see if your cervix is dilated. But don’t get too excited if she says you’re “a few centimetres.” “You can be two centimetres dilated for weeks without getting contractions,” says Lee Schofield, family doctor at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. It’s considered active labour when you are four centimetres dilated.

doctor examining pregnant patient's belly Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Your water breaks

Usually, your water breaking isn’t as dramatic as we see in movies, and will often happen after contractions start, or even in the hospital when you’re already well into labour. But if you do get a sudden gush of fluid it could be your water breaking, signalling that labour is coming. If this happens to you, call your midwife or doctor.


You experience rhythmic back pain

Sometimes, if your baby is lying in an unusual position in your uterus, your contractions might feel more like a severe, rhythmic back pain. “If the uterus is pushing against the spine because the baby is in a different position, you will experience more back labour,” explains Schofield.

pregnant woman touching her belly and lower back, suffering from backache AsiaVision / Getty Images

Your contractions are more frequent and progressive

Braxton Hicks contractions can come and go and are generally uncomfortable but not painful. When real contractions start, they get more intense, and there is a pattern. “When you can’t talk through them or catch your breath, if you have to stop and breathe in the moment, that is a sign you are getting there,” says Schofield.

Pregnant lady suffering from backache, husband massaging her shoulders Prostock-Studio / Getty Images

When should you head to the hospital?

You may be tempted to go to the hospital as soon as contractions start, but doctors and midwives encourage you to wait until they become more frequent and intense, especially if it’s your first baby. “We tell women to be on the lookout for the ‘4-1-1’ rule,” says Schofield: “Contractions that are four minutes apart, lasting one minute, and go on for an hour.”

Read more: Hospital bag checklist What NOT to bring to the hospital How to cope during the transition phase of labour

Pregnant woman with safety seat belt SanyaSM / Getty Images
This article was originally published on Apr 01, 2019

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