Everyone’s labour is different, and pinpointing when it begins is not really possible. It’s more of a process than a single event, when a number of changes in your body work together to help you give birth.
In early labour, also called the latent phase you may feel the following:
- Persistent lower back or abdominal pain, often accompanied by a crampy premenstrual feeling.
- A bloody show (a brownish or blood-tinged mucus discharge). If you pass the mucus plug that blocks the cervix, labour could be imminent or it could be several days away. It’s a sign that things are moving along.
- Painful contractions that occur at regular and increasingly shorter intervals and become longer and stronger in intensity.
- Broken waters, but you’re in labour only if it’s accompanied by contractions that are dilating your cervix.
How you will feel in early labour depends on whether you’ve had a baby before, how you perceive and respond to pain, and how prepared you are for what labour may be like.
When should I contact my midwife?
You and your midwife have probably talked about what to do when you think you’re in labour. But if you’re not sure whether or not the time has come, don’t be embarrassed to call. Midwives are used to getting calls from women who are uncertain if they’re in labour and who need guidance. It’s part of their job.
The truth is that they can tell a lot by the tone and tenor of your voice, so talking helps. The midwife will want to know how close together your contractions are, whether you can talk through a contraction, and any other symptoms you may have.
If you’re planning to have your baby in hospital or a birth center, she may ask you to come in so that she can make an assessment.
If she thinks you’re still in early labour she may encourage you to go home until you’re in stronger active labour. Her decision will depend on how you’re coping and whether you’ve got a birth partner to support you.
You should contact your midwife or doctor if:
- your waters break, or if you suspect you’re leaking amniotic fluid
- your baby is moving less than usual
- you have vaginal bleeding (unless it’s just a small amount of blood-tinged mucus)
- you have fever, severe headaches, changes in your vision, or abdominal pain
See our list of other pregnancy symptoms you shouldn’t ignore, in case anything else is worrying you.