Early signs and symptoms of labour

One of the first signs that labour may soon be starting is a ‘show’. This is a blood-streaked mucous plug which is passed out of the vagina when your cervix (the neck of your womb) begins to change. This is not a very reliable sign and not all women see this. For those women who do see a show, labour may be as much as two weeks away.

The most common indication that labour has begun is the start of painful contractions. These can range in intensity from mild irritation to strong pain and may be felt low down in your back or like waves moving across your abdomen. It is important to time how often these come and for how long they last.

When contractions are regular (coming every 5–10 minutes), and lasting 45–60 seconds, we would advise you to call Labour Ward for advice before coming into hospital, or call your midwife if you are having a home birth. Do bear in mind the distance you live from the hospital (hospital birth) or how long it will take the midwife to get to you (home birth). If you have already had a baby, the next birth may be quicker than the first.

If your waters break, this may also be a sign that you are going into labour. But it can often happen before labour starts, when you are not having contractions. Sometimes this can be confused with a loss of urine. If your waters break you will need to be seen and assessed by a midwife on Labour Ward therefore always contact your midwife or Labour Ward for advice if you feel your waters may have broken.

Call your midwife if:

  • You think you are in labour
  • Your waters may have broken
  • You have any vaginal bleeding
  • Contractions are regular, every 5–10 minutes
  • You are worried that your baby is not moving as much as usual
  • You have any other anxieties or queries


Birthing unit midwives
T: 020 3315 8000 and ask for Bleep 8915

Labour Ward
T: 020 3315 7855/7841


Was this page useful to you?

Share this page