Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Giving birth - early signs 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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

Giving birth - second stage of labour

The second stage of labour is when you give birth to your baby.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Giving birth - first stage of labour

Find out what happens during the first stage of labour.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Giving birth - third stage of labour

The third stage of labour is immediately after the birth of your child.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Signs of premature labour

Preterm labour is when you go in to labour before your pregnancy reaches 37 weeks.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pregnancy at week 39

Your baby's weight gain should slow down since they are now ready to be born. You might soon start to notice the early signs of labour.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Labour and birth using water

Information to help you make an informed choice for you and your baby about using water during the first stage of your labour or having a waterbirth.

Read more on WA Health website

RANZCOG - Labour and Birth

Every labour and birth is unique and unpredictable, making it difficult to plan. It is common for women to feel some level of anxiety during pregnancy; perhaps about their changing body, the health of their baby or concerns about the birth.

Read more on RANZCOG - Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website

Antenatal classes

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

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Birth plan- getting to hospital when having a baby

Pregnant and packing for hospital? Don’t forget to make a plan for how you’ll get there in time to give birth, bearing in mind that petrol tanks run empty and some cars have a habit of breaking down at all the wrong moments.

Read more on Parenthub website

Epidural

Epidural is highly effective local anaesthetic procedure includes injectind anaesthetic around the spinal nerves in your lower back.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

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?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

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.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.