How does my body get ready for labour?

Although every woman experiences labour differently, there are some general signs that labour is beginning. You may have some of these signs "on and off" for several days before labor starts.

General signs of labour

Scope on belly

The baby "drops" into the pelvis (also called lightening or engagement). This can occur up to 4 weeks before labour starts. When your baby "drops" you may be able to breathe easier but you'll have more pressure on your bladder and feel like you need to pass urine more often.

Nesting (a burst of energy and a need to have everything ready) may occur a few days before labour starts. Be careful not to do too much. You'll need your energy for labour and birth.

Flu-like symptoms:
Flu-like symptoms sometimes occur before labour starts. If you have diarrhea, nausea or cramping, be sure to rest. Call your caregiver or birth centre if these symptoms last more than 24 hours or if you're concerned.

A show of pink-tinged mucus (discharge or a mucus plug) from your vagina may occur up to a week before your baby is born. If this looks more like blood than mucus, report it right away to your caregiver.

Backache may occur at the onset of labour. Massage, movement and heat (such as a shower) will often help you feel better. If backache comes and goes in a pattern, you're probably having contractions.

Membrane rupture:
Rupture of membranes (a gush or trickle of fluid from your vagina) usually means that the amniotic sac (your bag of waters) is leaking or has broken. Sometimes this occurs before labour starts. The risk of infection may increase when your water breaks. Call your caregiver and go to your birth centre even if you aren't having contractions.

When to go to your birth centre


Most women begin labour between 38 and 42 weeks of pregnancy (2 weeks before or after your official due date). Because it's difficult to know when you'll go into labour, it's a good idea to be ready a couple of weeks before your due date. Ask your caregiver if he or she has any special instructions for you about when to go to the birth centre.

Most caregivers tell expectant mothers to go to the birth centre when:

  • Contractions have been 5 to 7 minutes apart for an hour. Time your contractions from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next contraction.
  • If this is not your first baby, go to your birth centre when your contractions are 7 to 10 minutes apart.
  • Contractions are becoming stronger and you're no longer comfortable at home.
  • The amniotic sac (bag of waters) has broken and you've lost fluid from your vagina.
  • There is a decrease in your baby's movements. A lack or decrease of movement does not occur before labour starts. Don't ignore lack of movement.
  • There are abnormal signs such as vaginal bleeding or signs of preterm labour.
  • Call your caregiver or birth centre if you have any concerns.


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