Every woman has a different experience of labour. Every birth story is different. Sharing information helps pregnant women to gain knowledge and understand how unique each birth experience and labour story can be. If this is your first baby you may be really inquisitive about how things might pan out. Often labour can turn out how you least expect it to.
So how will you know if you are in labour? What are the signs of labour? Sometimes a woman just knows. Other times it may be a bit blurred.
My labour story
For both my kids births I had to be induced – for Jacob it was the gel and with Emily my waters were ruptured with one of those hooks. Then labour was fast and furious.
With Jacob’s birth I remember arriving at the hospital on the evening of 26 August at this stage Jacob was a week overdue, the midwives wanted to send my husband Shane home and give me a sleeping tablet. I politely declined their offer! The midwives said they expected me to deliver my baby the following afternoon – well did I prove them wrong! The Athens Olympics were on and Shane, being a former athlete was sitting there totally engrossed in the athletics! I found it all very surreal, I became uncomfortable very quickly, at one point my midwife said to me “you’re doing it very hard for this early on” but Jacob was well and truly ready to grace us with his presence and arrived a couple of hours later, much to the horror of my midwife and the obstetrician who needed to be woken in the middle of the night!
Here are some of the signs that may signify that your labour has begun.
This is the most obvious one but apparently only happens in around 10-15% of pregnancies! The amniotic sac ruptures and the fluid that surrounds your baby will start to leak. It could be a slow trickle or a big gush. This could happen at any moment. I know one lady who experienced the “big gush” in the middle of the shopping centre! Lovely! Another one felt her waters break just as she put the ham in the oven for Christmas lunch. It’s a good idea to have your maternity pads on hand ready for this situation and a couple of old towels maybe in the back of the car. Just in case!
One doctor advised me not to swim too much in the latter stages of pregnancy in case your waters break while you are swimming and you miss this key sign. You should definitely make contact with the hospital after your waters break so that they can monitor you as there is a small chance of infection if the labour doesn’t start soon after.
My sister had a slow leak and was turned away a number of times from the hospital, she didn’t deliver for another 4 days after her waters ruptured. Unfortunately, as a result her son Lachie was born with a Group B Strep infection and needed to go on anti-biotics as did my sister. I share this with you not to alarm you or cause fear but to make you aware. My sister was a nurse and she still didn’t realise what was happening as it was her first baby.
The good news is that for most women, the amniotic membrane ruptures just before the pushing of labour, when your cervix is fully dilated. The waters usually leak slowly and do not gush out as popularly depicted in movies!
One of the Bubbaroo team member’s labour started with a stabbing pain in her back at 3.30am. She recalls shouting to her husband that it had started but he didn’t believe her! “I know” she told him. It was like a very intense period back pain. Then her mother in law came around in the morning to pick up her toddler and because she was walking around her mother-in-law told her that she could not possibly be in labour! “I am” she told her! Sure enough her baby was born 24 hours later. You will probably know when things are starting even though you may look completely under control.
During contractions the pain may stop you in your tracks, but in between contractions you should be able to move around. Walking and moving where possible and comfortable is a great way to keep things moving along during the labour. Being upright will encourage the baby’s head to place pressure on the cervix and therefore improve dilation. By changing positions it can allow more room for baby to shift and turn into the right position it needs to be in. Keeping as upright as possible will help you to cope and will help nature take its course by making your baby’s head push downwards to spur things on.
You may notice that your Braxton Hicks contractions become more frequent and stronger as you get closer to labour. Braxton Hicks come and go but real contractions don’t go away when you move. They might feel like strong period pain. Contractions are felt across your abdomen and may go hand in hand with back pain. It is a good idea to time between contractions and write it down so that you will have some information to pass on to the hospital when you arrive. Time the length of each contraction from beginning to end. Check for consistency. If they are getting stronger and closer then it means your baby is closer to being born.
You might be happier than you think to see this jelly-like mucous tinged plug that has sealed your cervix for the last 9 months. It’s actually a good sign that the cervix is softening and your body is preparing for the arrival of your baby. Sometimes the mucous plug is released at the beginning of labour. For others it could be a few weeks before. It may not happen overnight! But it will happen! Remember that your body is moving at its own pace and as anxious as you are to see your baby, good things take time. If you have any bleeding at all, mucous plug or not, it’s a good idea to contact your medical professional straight away to check.
Changes in bowel habits
In late pregnancy, a change in your bowel habits could indicate that labour is not far away. If you have several soft bowel movements within a day, it could be a sign that your body is clearing out your system to make way for the baby. Sometimes it may be accompanied by nausea or vomiting. You should check these symptoms with your doctor. In any case, make sure you stay well fed and hydrated, as your body will need these nutrients for the hard work of labor to follow.
Unfortunately you will not know until after the fact, how long your labour will be so try to stay calm and patient. It could happen very quickly or take many hours. If things are manageable then lie down and take it easy. Labour is tiring! It’s not called labour for nothing!
Call the hospital
You will more than likely find it helpful if you have support. So if you think your labour has started, call your midwife or your hospital for advice on how to proceed. Your doctor or midwife should have already advised you on how to get in touch. If you’re not sure when to head to the hospital or birth centre, then just call the hospital for reassurance. Not all labouring women head to the hospital straight away. If you report your symptoms to the hospital then they will tell you when you should plan on coming in. Also call your partner or a trusted friend so that they can help you get to the hospital or get to your home if you’re having a home birth. It’s helpful to try to keep an open mind about how it will play out. It’s an exciting and intense time filled with such emotion – it never ceases to amaze me just how amazing our bodies are!
How did you know you were in labour? Please share your story in the comments to help other women that may be anxious awaiting the arrival of their precious baby.