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Giving birth - stages of labour

2-minute read

You're unlikely to mistake the signs of labour when the time comes, but if you're in any doubt don't hesitate to contact your midwife or doctor managing your pregnancy.

Early signs of labour

Giving birth will be different for every woman, but the main signs that you are starting labour will most likely be strong, regular contractions, and a 'show'. During your pregnancy, a plug of mucus sits in your cervix. A show is when that plug of mucus comes away, indicating that the cervix is starting to open.

Other signs that you are going into labour can include:

  • your waters breaking (rupture of the membranes)
  • backache, or an upset stomach
  • cramping or tightening, similar to period pain
  • a feeling of pressure, as the baby's head moves into the pelvis
  • an urge to go to the toilet caused by your baby's head pressing in your bowel

Stages of labour

There are 3 stages to labour.

The first stage is when your contractions increase, and your cervix begins to open up (dilate). This is usually the longest stage.

The second stage of labour is when your cervix is fully open. This is the part of labour where you help your baby move through your vagina by pushing with your contractions.

The third stage is after the birth of your baby, when your womb contracts and causes the placenta to come out through the vagina.

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Last reviewed: January 2020


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Giving birth - early signs of labour

You can know the early signs of labour, even if you cannot predict when your labour will begin. Find out also what to do if something appears to be wrong.

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Contractions are when the muscles in your uterus tighten and then relax. They occur throughout the later stages of your pregnancy.

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Antenatal classes help you and your partner prepare for the birth of your baby and for caring for your newborn.

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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