You’re nearly there! The last few weeks of pregnancy are the most uncomfortable and we’re sure you’re desperate to meet your baby. Your breasts may have started to leak and your nesting instinct will be active making you clean everything in sight, but how do you know when your body is ready to give birth?
What is the onset of labour?
Labour is the indication that the body is preparing to give birth. This is often defined by the body experiencing regular painful contractions. However, there are also other signs that signal the onset of labour which we will identify in this article.
When do Braxton Hicks start?
From around week 36 of your pregnancy, your body will start preparing for the birth. You will start to experience “Braxton Hicks” contractions also known as “practice” contractions. This is not real labour but practice for you and your breathing exercises. If these contractions do start to get closer together and longer, contact your midwife. Your vaginal discharge will start to increase and may appear to be slightly pink. You may also notice your baby’s head dropping as they get ready for their arrival into the world. A benefit of this is that you will be able to breathe easier!
What is water breaking and when does it start?
Unknown to many women, your waters breaking isn’t actually the first sign of labour. Your bag of waters can stay intact right up until your baby is born. In fact, some babies can even be born in the bag of waters, known as being born “in the caul”. It’s said to be a sign of good luck! If your waters do break, be sure to take note of the colour. Your midwife will want to know whether the water was clear, blood stained or green.
Onset of labour – what does it feel like?
Most women will start labour by experiencing niggly mild contractions, which can sometimes feel like lower back ache initially. If you’re in labour, these pains will start to become stronger, longer and more frequent. You’ll be able to tell the difference between them and Braxton Hicks contractions because the “practice” contractions generally slow down or stop when you lie down or have a glass of water for example. In some cases, you may experience loose bowels as a sign of labour.
Your discharge will also appear brown and bloody, also known as a “bloody show”. This is when the mucus plug that blocks the cervix is released. This is a sign that your labour is starting.
During the early stages of labour your cervix thins and starts to dilate – on average a centimetre an hour for your first baby. You need to be ten centimetres dilated before you can push your baby into the world. When the onset of labour starts it can be a very exciting time for you, but you need to remember it’s going to be a long and probably not an easy process. On the day make sure you get lots of rest or at least try to, maybe take a walk or a long soak in the bath, drink plenty of fluids and eat light meals.
When is it time to go to hospital?
When it’s time to go into hospital will depend on you and your circumstances. This will have been discussed between you and your midwife. If you go into hospital during early labour, there is a chance you may be sent home to wait a bit longer until you’re further dilated. If you feel you need to go to hospital, don’t hesitate to ring your midwife and they will help you decide what you need to do. A popular technique women follow is the 1-5-1 rule – this is when your contractions last a minute or more and are less than 5 minutes apart but you have been experiencing them for an hour. Most of all, be patient and calm and have your hospital bag ready to go, as you’re at the point when your get to meet your son/daughter you have been carrying for 9 months.