Labour advice

How do I know if I'm in labour?

When your body is ready to go into labour, you may start experiencing ‘surges’ or contractions. During a contraction, the muscles in your womb tighten and you may experience some discomfort. Once the muscle relaxes, the discomfort subsides.

In the very early stages of labour, also known as the latent phase, you may have lower back pain or start having uterine contractions which can feel like strong period pains. At this stage, contractions are irregular and their length and intensity may vary. It is normal for them to stop and re-commence, as your body starts preparing you for labour. If your contractions last longer than 60 seconds, and come in waves of equal intensity and at regular intervals every three to five minutes for over an hour, lasting for a minute and feeling moderate to strong, you are likely to be entering active labour and should contact us to be assessed on the phone.

Some women may experience a ‘show’ with or without any contractions. During pregnancy there is a mucus plug present near the neck of the womb. It is common for this plug to come away in the hours or days preceding your labour. When this plug comes away, you may see pink or brown sticky, jelly-like mucus leave your vagina. For as long as everything else is reassuring, there is no need for you to ring us, unless you are bleeding or concerned about the plug. Having a show is different to when your waters break. A show has a jelly and mucus consistency; when the waters go you will see or feel clear fluid draining. We will be happy to discuss this over the phone if you are unsure of the differences.

Depending on where you have chosen to give birth, you are advised to do the following:

  • If you have arranged to have a homebirth, you should contact your community midwife (telephone number in your notes)
  • If you have opted to give birth in our midwifery-led care unit, you should contact Alexandra Birthing Centre on 01923 217364.
  • If you have chosen to give birth on delivery suite, our triage phone number is 01923 217343

If you are unsure who to call or need general reassurance, contact maternity triage and we will be happy to help you by providing further advice.

When should I contact the labour ward or birth centre?

You should contact us when:

  • You think you are in labour
  • Your waters break
  • You are concerned about your baby moving less than usual
  • You experience vaginal bleeding
  • You experience fever, headache, blurred vision or abdominal pain
  • You are worried or have any queries

How will I know if my waters have broken?

During pregnancy your baby is surrounded by a sack of fluid called membranes. Most pregnant women’s membranes ‘rupture’ during labour. This is known as your ‘waters breaking’. Some women’s waters break before their contractions start. Once your waters have broken there will be a continuous leaking fluid from your vagina, that you are unable to control. Some women see a large amount of fluid when their waters break, while others only see a trickle or experience mild dampness.


  • If your waters break and the colour is clear, pink or straw coloured, please call us.
  • If your waters break and the colour is green, brown or heavily blood-stained, please call us and we will ask you to come in to the hospital straight away.

When will we ask you to come in?

If your waters break

If you think you are in active, established labour. Your contractions are a good indication of whether you are in established labour. When in active, established labour, each contraction will: last 60 seconds or more, be of equal intensity and pain or occur regularly and in a predictable pattern over one hour

It’s a good idea to time your contractions. If you are unsure as to whether you should come into hospital or not, please call your birth centre or triage phone number. If you think your baby is coming very quickly and you are feeling an urge to push, please call 999 and contact the local ambulance service.

Please Note:

If you arrive at hospital and you are in early labour we may advise you to return home. This is usually only with first labours, which may stop and start in the early phase. We will make a plan with you so you know when to contact us again and return.

What can I do in early labour to manage the pain?

  • Ask your birthing partner to massage your lower back
  • Apply a form of heat to your lower back area or soak in a warm bath or shower
  • Use a TENS machine: this is a device that transmits gentle, electrical impulses through you skin via sticky pads called electrodes. Some pregnant women find it helps manage the pain associated with labour. You will need to arrange using a TENS machine prior to going into labour by either hiring or buying one.
  • Use a birth ball to sit upright and forwards
  • Take a mild painkiller like paracetamol, if you are not allergic

What do I do if I experience vaginal bleeding?

  • If you are bleeding and have been pregnant for less than twenty weeks, call the early pregnancy assessment unit.
  • If you are bleeding and have been pregnant for over twenty weeks, please contact our triage phone or the birth centre where you are booked in.

Who can I bring to hospital with me?

We encourage you to bring your partner or another relative or friend to support you in labour. If you have a doula, they are also welcome to be present at your labour to support you.

How to get help

Refer yourself