Advice and information for women in labour

Knowing the signs

There are several signs that labour might be starting, including:

  • Contractions or tightenings 
  • A "show", when the plug of mucus from your cervix (entrance to your womb, or uterus) comes away 
  • Backache 
  • An urge to go to the toilet, which is caused by your baby's head pressing on your bowel 
  • Your waters breaking (rupture of membranes) 

The early (latent) stage of labour can take some time. Call the maternity unit if:

  • Your waters break, or
  • You're bleeding, or
  • Your baby is moving less than usual, or
  • You're less than 37 weeks pregnant and think you might be in labour

These signs mean you need to see a midwife or doctor.

Latent phase of labour

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 do attend the maternity unit and are not in established labour you will be advised to go home.

What do contractions feel like?

When you have a contraction, your womb tightens and then relaxes. For some people, contractions may feel like extreme period pains. You may have had contractions during your pregnancy, particularly towards the end. These tightenings are called Braxton Hicks contractions and are usually painless.


As labour gets going, your contractions tend to become longer, stronger and more frequent. During a contraction, the muscles tighten and the pain increases. If you put your hand on your abdomen, you'll feel it getting harder; when the muscles relax, the pain fades and you will feel the hardness ease. The contractions are pushing your baby down and opening the entrance to your womb (the cervix), ready for your baby to go through. 


Your midwife will probably advise you to stay at home until your contractions become frequent. 

Call the maternity unit for guidance when your contractions are in a regular pattern and:

  • last at least 60 seconds 
  • come every 5 minutes 


Contact 01279 441607 for women in labour for urgent advice.

Alternatively call switchboard on 01279 44455 ext. 2144 or ext. 2456.

Inpatient comment:

Everyone offered words of such reassurance and kindness. I felt so cared for and the communication with me at all times was fantastic.