Understanding the Signs of Labour


As your due date is approaching, all the apprehension, hidden fears and anxiety upsurges. But virtually no one can forecast the time when the labour will begin. It is normal for labour to begin as soon as three weeks prior to your due date or as late as two weeks post it. The following are signs that probably the labour would approach any time:

Regular contractions
Womb (uterus) gets tight and then relaxes leading to a contraction. You may have felt these contractions throughout the pregnancy especially towards the end. These contractions before labour are called Braxton Hicks contractions. When these contractions start coming regularly and last more than 30 seconds and begin to feel stronger, it is a sign that labour may have begun. Your contractions will become longer, stronger and more frequent.

Other signs of labour

Backache: You may get a backache or heavy feeling, which is quite similar to the pain that some women get with their monthly period.

Lightening: In preparation for the delivery, the baby's head comes down into the pelvis and when this occurs it is known as lightening. This can ensue few weeks to a few hours from the commencement of the labour. The tummy may appear lower and makes breathing easier. When lightening occurs there may be an increased frequency of urination; this is because the baby is pressing on your bladder.

“Bloody show”: This occurs when the mucus plug (that has sealed the womb to protect from the infection) gets released as a blood-tinged or brownish discharge from the cervix (the narrow neck-like passage forming the lower end of the womb). This can occur days prior or at the start of the labour.

Diarrhoea: Frequent loose stools may indicate labour is impending.

Ruptured membranes: When the membrane of the amniotic sac (membrane that surrounds and protects the baby) ruptures, fluid gushes out or leaks from the vagina.  This can happen hours before labour begins or during the labour. After the membrane ruptures, most of the women go into labour within 24 hours. In case the labour does not start naturally during this time, doctors may have to induce labour to prevent infections and delivery complications.

These are the sign of labours but sometime you may miss these sign when they really occur so, if you are in any doubt, do contact your doctor.

  1. NHS. The pregnancy book. Cited 2016 May 3. Available from: https://www.stgeorges.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Pregnancy_Book_comp.pdf(PDF 1MB).

Good to know the stages of labour

Every woman has a distinct labour and delivery experience. But knowing what normally happens during labour and delivery can be of help as it prepares you to know what to expect as the due date is approaching. Usually, labour and delivery proceed in this way: softening and opening of the cervix, rupturing of the amniotic sac, contractions that get stronger and more frequent.

Labour and delivery is divided into three stages.

Stage 1 has three phases: latent, active, and transition.

Latent Phase

  • This phase lasts for a long time and is less intense.
  • During this phase the frequency of contractions increases, which enhances the cervix dilatation, easing out the passage of the baby through the birth canal.
  • If you are experiencing regular contractions, then you may be admitted to the hospital, and a pelvic examination will be done to measure the cervical dilatation (i.e. how much your cervix has dilated).

Active Phase

  • During this phase the dilatation of cervix occurs rapidly.
  • Pain during this phase can become intense and you may experience pressure in the back and abdomen during every contraction.
  • You may also feel like pushing or bearing down, but the doctor may ask you to wait till the cervix is completely dilated.

Transition Phase

  • During this phase the cervix is completely dilated to 10 centimetres.
  • Contractions are painful, strong and frequent (lasting 60–90 seconds per contraction, occurring every 3 to 4 minutes).

When the cervix is fully opened, stage 2 begins and your doctor will ask you to push. Pushing, when you feel the contractions, will drive the baby through the birth canal. Following this, crowning occurs when the widest part of the baby’s head reaches the vaginal opening. Once the baby's head comes out, the doctor will remove (suction out) the blood, amniotic fluid, and mucus from baby’s nose and mouth. While you continue to push to help deliver the baby's shoulders and body and once the baby is delivered the umbilical cord is clamped and cut.

Stage 3 is the final stage of labour that occurs after the baby is delivered. In this stage, the placenta is delivered (the organ that nourished the baby inside the womb).
As mentioned before each woman and each labour is unique. The extent of time for each stage of delivery will differ. For first time mothers, labour and delivery can last about 12 to 14 hours. The duration typically decreases for the subsequent pregnancies.

  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. Labor and delivery, postpartum care. Cited 2016 May 4. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy­lifestyle/labor­and­delivery/basics/labor­and­delivery/hlv­20049465.

Understanding types labour and assisted delivery

Even a woman who may have had a smooth and easy pregnancy can sometimes encounter challenges at the time of delivery. Let’s try and understand the situations when labour gets a little complicated.

Preterm Labour and Premature Delivery
Being born early is one of the greatest dangers a baby can face, as his/ her body is not developed completely to live outside the womb. For instance, the lungs are not developed enough to breathe air, or the baby's body is unable to generate enough heat to keep warm.
Labour is called preterm if the labour contractions begin before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and a baby born before 37 weeks is a premature baby. Premature babies are at risk of complications.

Prolonged Labour (Failure to Progress)
Few women, especially first-time mothers, may experience prolonged labour. This prolonged labour is also sometimes called "failure to progress." Prolonged labour can put the mother and the baby at risk for several complications.
If labour is complicated, it may need some assistance, and doctors and hospitals are equipped to handle them. The assistance can differ and it ranges from medicines, to emergency delivery procedures.

Following are few assisted delivery procedures.
Assisted delivery procedures


This is a surgical cut that is made in the area of skin between the vagina and the anus (perineum). This cut enlarges the vaginal opening helping the baby’s head to pass more easily; preventing the tearing of the mother’s skin.

Amniotomy: Breaking the Bag of Water

In this procedure, the amniotic sac is artificially ruptured. This procedure can be done before or during the labour, and it is usually done to induce or help labour.

Induced Labour

This generally means that labour is required to be started and this can be due to multiple medical reasons. With the help of a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin, labour is induced.

Forceps delivery

This procedure involves the insertion of two large-looking spoons called forceps into the vagina, and placing them around the baby’s head. Usually, the forceps are used to gently deliver the baby’s head and the rest of the baby is delivered normally.

Vacuum extraction

A vacuum extractor is like a small suction cup that is positioned on the baby’s head. This helps to deliver the baby, though the baby may have a bruise on the head because of the procedure, which goes off in48 hours.

Cesarean section

It is a surgical procedure which is performed if a vaginal delivery is not possible.