On average the expected due date is the best estimate of the baby’s arrival.  80-90 percent of babies will arrive within a 20 day period centred on your expected date of delivery.  In other words, approximately 5 percent will be earlier and 5 percent will be later than this 20 day window.

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The onset of labour can be difficult to define and rather irritatingly can sometimes only be determined in retrospect.

 

Contractions

The onset of labour is characterised by strong, regular, frequent and painful contractions.  These contractions cause the baby’s head to move down whilst the cervix starts to thin and open.  As you get nearer your due date, your uterus will start to contract more frequently and more obviously as Braxton Hicks increase in intensity so it is important to note that this does not constitute being in labour, so not all women who are experiencing contractions are in labour!

If you are having contractions regularly but without a pattern, then you could be in Latent Labour.  For a more detail description of this, see below.

Many doctors say that you can expect to miss 3 nights sleep with your first baby.  One night in latent labour or pre labour, perhaps thinking you are in labour, the next night in actual labour, and the third night having just given birth.  With subsequent babies this is not so likely.

 

Waters Breaking/Membrane Rupture

The rupture of your membranes, or the “breaking of your waters” as it is often called, is characterised by significant loss of fluid from your vagina.  This may come as a big gush or as a persistent trickle of a clear fluid that is distinguishable from urine by its different smell and sticky texture.  The waters breaking does not necessarily mean you are in active labour, but labour will usually start within 24-72 hours.  Sometimes if this happens it is because the baby is in a back to back (occipito posterior) position.    If labour has not started after 48 hours then usually labour will need to be induced as there is a slight risk of infection once the waters have broken.   If there are any other risk factors for infection, this may require earlier action.

Towards the end of your pregnancy, as you are feeling a lot of pressure on your bladder and going to the toilet frequently, you may be unsure as to whether your waters have broken or you are wetting yourself!  If this is the case, you could put a sanitary towel in your knickers and check it in 15 minutes to see if it is wet through.  You can have a look at and smell the liquid which will be quite different from urine if your waters have broken.  You can also sit on the loo and clench your pelvic floor muscles as if to stop yourself weeing.  If liquid continues to come out, it is probably your waters.

If your waters do break then you should call your midwife who will instruct you to come into hospital. You should be sure to tell her if the waters are brown or green or have any blood in them.  You should bring your overnight bag and baby bag with you to hospital as you may be kept in if you need to be monitored or induced.

 

The Show or Mucus Plug

The Show, also known as The Bloody Show or the Mucus Plug is a small amount of mucus that has sealed your cervix during the last 9 months.  If your cervix begins to dilate towards the very end of your pregnancy then your mucus plug may be passed through your vagina.  This can happen a week or so before you go into labour, or even whilst you are in labour.  You could, however, pass the plug out with the baby and therefore may not be aware of it at all.

It may come out as a lump or as increased vaginal discharge over the course of several days. The mucus may be streaked with old, brown blood or fresher pink, or red blood, which is why it’s referred to as “bloody show.”

Sex, a vaginal exam or a sweep can disturb your mucus plug and cause you to see some blood-tinged discharge, however, in this instance, this may not be a sign that labour will start imminently.

 

Nausea or Diarrhoea?

Some women report bouts of diarrhoea or nausea before they go into labour, but seeing as you may already be feeling a little rotten at this stage, this is not a reliable indicator.

In order to diagnose labour you usually have to be examined once or twice by a midwife or doctor

 

What does Labour feel like?

If you haven’t had a baby before, then you may wonder how you will know when you are in labour.  Contractions start off feeling like bad period pains.  If you have not had a period pain before, then we would describe the pain as a dull, aching, cramping in the abdominal area that can last up to a minute, starting off mildly and then reaching a crescendo and dying down.

10 percent of women will feel their labour pains in their back. This pain is different from any other kind of back pain as it will not be constant, it will come and go, lasting up to a minute and the pain will be associated with the tummy going hard or contracting at the same time.  This feeling of pain in the back related to the way in which your nerve supply to the uterus is wired up and will likely be the same for any subsequent labours.

Read about the next stage, Latent Labour