Signs your labour is starting

Every labour is unique and it is important to remember that there is no set pattern or timing of events.  As a general guide, the signs of labour beginning include:

The ‘show’

As the neck of the womb begins to soften and open, the mucus which has been protecting the entrance to your womb comes away. This is called the ‘show’. It has a jelly-like appearance and can often be streaked with blood, either bright red, pink or brown. It may also be clear. This is all normal. Having a ‘show’ means that your body is starting to get ready for labour – but the actual birth of your baby is very likely to be some time away. Some women have a ‘show’ several days before the labour starts, while other women may have several small ‘shows’.

If you notice any bright/fresh red blood on its own, you must telephone Triage on 01895 279054 straight away.

Your waters breaking

Before active labour starts, your waters may break. During pregnancy, your baby is surrounded by amniotic fluid – the ‘waters’. For some women (about 1 in 10), the first sign that labour is going to start is that the waters begin to leak.  It is quite common for women to leak a small amount of urine towards the end of pregnancy and it can sometimes be difficult to tell if your waters have broken or if it is urine.  If you are not sure if your waters have broken, put a sanitary pad on and sit or lie down for 30 minutes, if the pad is still wet after this time, it is likely that they have broken.  If you have a definite ‘gush’ of fluid, this is usually a clear sign that your waters have broken.  In either case, you should telephone Triage for advice.

If the ‘waters’ break and labour has not yet begun, this is still normal. The majority of women (about 86 per cent) will go into labour within 24 hours of their ‘waters’ breaking. However, during this time you will need to be assessed by a midwife.

It is important for you to note what colour the waters are.  They are often clear or ‘straw’ coloured; sometimes they change to a pinky colour but this is completely normal. HOWEVER:

  • If you notice that the waters are green, brown or heavily blood stained, you must contact Triage straight away for advice.
  • Monitor your baby’s movements – they should remain the same as usual.

It is not essential for your ‘waters’ to break for you to go into labour.


In the early or ‘latent’ phase of labour it is not unusual for contractions to start and stop. This is normal.  Some women may find that their contractions can continue for several hours but remain short lasting and mild. This is normal too, within the latent phase.  This time can be tiring, but it is important to remember that your body knows how to give birth. When you begin to understand what helps or hinders the natural process, you can create the right environment around you. If you find that labour has slowed down, this is a good time for you and your birth partner to build up some energy supplies by taking a rest and having something light to eat.

If you telephone the Triage midwife for advice, and everything sounds normal, you will be encouraged to remain at home for as long as possible.  If you have arrived at the hospital a little too early and everything appears normal, the midwife will encourage you to return home. This is because research has shown that fear and anxiety may inhibit the normal labour process. The best place for any woman in the latent phase of labour is therefore at home in familiar surroundings, supported by people she trusts. However, please feel free to contact Triage at any time if you are concerned about any of the symptoms you are experiencing.

As labour establishes, and you enter the active phase, your contractions should continue until the baby is born. When you do have regular contractions they will be longer, stronger and closer together.  As a guide, when true labour is underway you will be having painful, regular contractions - at least one every five minutes and each lasting around a minute. As contractions become more intense, it will become increasingly difficult to focus on anything else.

An expectant mother being examined by a midwife

Maternity Triage
Hillingdon Hospital
Telephone: 01895 279054