There are a few signs that may indicate that you are in active labour. Every body is different so these are not what everyone may experience. You may be experiencing these and not even be aware so if in doubt, always check with your midwife or doctor.
What are they? Contractions are regular tightenings of the uterine muscles and occur throughout labour. During the first stage, these contractions help to dilate the cervix. In the second stage, they help to push the baby down the birth canal and in the third stage, the contractions help deliver the placenta.
How do they feel? There are different versions of the feeling. Some say that it feels like very bad period pains in the stomach. Others describe the feeling as that of extreme constipation and wind. Sometimes, contractions may feel as originating from the back and radiating towards the front. Contractions may also be accompanied with backache, nausea and/or diarrhoea.
What to do? If the contractions get regular and more frequent, increasing in intensity, call the hospital or contact your midwife as you may be in labour. Start timing your contractions.
How to time contractions? When timing contractions, you need to be aware of two things - how frequent and how strong are the contractions. Start the timer when you get the first contraction. The time when it ends is used to determine the duration of the contraction. When the second contraction starts, use the interval between the start time of this contraction and the start time of the previous contraction to determine the frequency of contractions.
Remember that many people wrongly time contractions as the interval between the end time of first and start time of next contraction.
What is it? A protective plug of mucus seals the cervix at the neck of the uterus throughout pregnancy. This plug begins to come away and passes down the vagina as a bloodstained, mucus discharge. This is called a 'show'.
When? A show may occur several days before labour or it may even occur during the first stage of labour.
What to do? If a show is accompanied with regular contractions or rupture of membranes, you must contact your midwife or the hospital as you may be in labour.
Which water is breaking? Your baby floats in a sac containing a fluid all throughout pregnancy. This sac is called amniotic sac and the fluid is the amniotic fluid. When the baby is ready to be born, the membranes of this sac break causing the amniotic fluid to flow out of the vagina.
What will I feel? You will feel the fluid either trickling or a sudden gush of fluid out through the vagina. Most commonly, there is a trickle as the baby has engaged by this time and the baby's head has the 'cork on bottle' effect.
When? Your waters may break several hours before onset of labour or it may occur during labour itself.
What to do? If the fluid is clear, wear a sanitary towel if it makes you feel more comfortable. Call your midwife or the hospital. If the fluid is greenish, yellow or brown in colour, it may be a sign of the baby in distress. This coloured fluid is actually due to the baby having passed meconium, its first stool. Normally the baby would have passed the stools after having been born but if it does so while inside, it could be a sign of distress. Call your midwife or hospital immediately.