The start of labour is called the latent phase. This is when your cervix becomes soft and thin, and starts opening for your baby to be born. This can take hours or, for some women, days.
You'll probably be advised to stay at home during this time. If you go to the hospital or maternity unit, they may suggest you go back home.
There are several signs to look out for that might suggest labour might be starting. They include contractions, a show, backache and your waters breaking.
Contractions - For a lot of women, contractions feel like strong period pains. Your tummy will go hard at the same time as you having a pain, and then it will go soft again as the pain eases. They may start off coming every 7-10 minutes, lasting 20-30 seconds. As your labour progresses, you will notice that they form a regular pattern and they will get stronger and longer. These contractions are making your cervix efface (get thinner) and dilate (open up).
Please call the labour ward for further advice when your contractions are coming regularly every 4-5 minutes, lasting 60 seconds.
Show – A mucous show is also known as your ‘plug’. It is a clear or blood stained jelly-like substance which comes away through your vagina. It is not a guaranteed sign that labour is imminent and you don’t need to call us to tell us that you have had this.
Waters breaking – When your waters break, you may feel a slow trickle or a sudden gush of warm fluid. It is often clear, straw coloured or pinky in appearance. Please call the labour ward if you think your waters have broken. If it is green, brown or has fresh red blood in, please call the labour ward immediately.
Most women go into labour within the first 24 hours of their waters breaking. If you don’t go into labour naturally, your labour may need to be induced as your baby will be at an increased risk of infection. You can discuss these options with a midwife over the phone, or if you need to attend labour ward. Whilst you are at home, it is important to keep an eye on your baby’s movements and the colour and smell of any fluid you are losing, and to call the labour ward immediately if you have any concerns.
There is no evidence that having a bath or shower will increase your risk of infection after your waters have gone, but having sex might.
Looking after yourself at home during early labour -
We know that the key hormone throughout labour and birth is 'oxytocin'- the more oxytocin you make the better labour progresses. Your body creates more of this hormone when you are at home in a relaxing and comforting environment, so you should stay at home for as long as you feel able.
- Try dimming the lights or lighting a scented candle.
- You can have a soak in a warm bath or using a hot water bottle.
- Drink lots of fluids and eat whatever appeals to keep your energy levels up
- Go to the toilet regularly; an empty bladder helps your womb contract more efficiently and allows more room for your baby to descend
- Focus on your breathing
- Distraction! Watch something funny to increase your oxytocin levels. Listen to some nice music. Keep yourself busy with chores around the house. When labour gets stronger, you soon won’t be able to do these things, and that’s a good sign!
- Keep yourself upright and mobile to encourage baby into a good position. If your latent phase has been going on for a number of hours, it’s important to rest too. Remember to lie down on your left hand side if possible.