Pregnancy and signs of labour
The first question most women ask is, "Am I pregnant?" The question that usually follows is, "What are labour and delivery like?" The information in this article will help answer the most common questions about labour, especially if this is your first pregnancy. For detailed information on delivery, see “Methods of delivery”.
Signs of labour
Some women experience very distinct signs of labour, while others do not. No one knows what causes labour to start or when it will start, but several hormonal and physical changes may indicate the beginning of labour.
These changes include:
- Passing of the mucus plug (a ‘show’)
- Waters breaking
- Effacement and dilation of the cervix.
Lightening during labour
The process of your baby settling or lowering into your pelvis just before labour is called lightening. Lightening can occur a few weeks or a few hours before labour. Because the uterus rests on the bladder more after lightening, you may feel the need to pass urine more frequently.
Passing of the mucus plug (a "show")
The mucus plug accumulates at the cervix during pregnancy. Just before labour begins and so the cervix can start to open wider, the mucus is discharged into the vagina. It may be clear, pink or slightly bloody. Labour may begin soon after the mucus plug is discharged or up to one to two weeks later.
During contractions, the abdomen becomes hard. Between contractions, the uterus relaxes and the abdomen becomes soft. The way a contraction feels is different for each woman and may feel different from one pregnancy to the next. However, labour contractions usually cause discomfort or a dull ache in your back and lower abdomen, along with pressure in the pelvis. Contractions move in a wave-like motion from the top of the uterus to the bottom. Some women describe contractions as strong menstrual cramps. Unlike false labour contractions or Braxton Hicks contractions, true labour contractions do not stop when you change your position or relax. Although the contractions may be uncomfortable, you will be able to relax in between contractions.
What's the difference between true labour and false labour?
Before "true" labour begins, you may have "false" labour pains, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions. These irregular uterine contractions are perfectly normal and may start to occur in your second trimester, although more commonly in your third trimester of pregnancy. They are your body's way of getting ready for the “real thing”.
What do Braxton Hicks contractions feel like?
Braxton Hicks contractions can be described as a tightening in the abdomen that comes and goes. These contractions do not get closer together, do not increase in how long they last and do not feel stronger over time as they do when you are in true labour. Braxton Hicks contractions last for between 30 seconds to two minutes.