Signs of labour

Labour is the process by which your baby is born. It usually starts by itself between 38 and 42 weeks. It ends up with you actively helping your baby to be born.

Normal labour will usually begin with occasional contractions (tightening of the womb). These will happen more often and last for longer as your labour continues.

Your waters may release naturally and the neck of your womb (cervix) will open (dilate) to allow your baby to be born. For your first baby, this can take up to 18 hours. If you've already had a baby, it can take up to 12 hours. Sometimes the waters do not release until your baby is ready to be born.

Stages of labour

Preparing your body for labour and birth

If you are having a hospital birth, you will probably be advised to stay at home at the start of labour.

When you go to the hospital or maternity unit, they will check you and admit you if you are in labour. They may also suggest you go home for a while.

Call your midwife if you're unsure or worried about anything.

Signs of labour

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

  • contractions or tightenings
  • a 'show' which is when the mucous plug comes out of the vagina
  • backache
  • an urge to go to the toilet, which is caused by your baby's head pressing on your bowel
  • your waters breaking or releasing (rupture of membranes)

Call your midwife if your waters break or release before labour starts. There is an increased risk of infection for your baby.


If you are less than 37 weeks pregnant and think you might be going into labour, call your midwife or go to the hospital. You'll need to be checked in case you're going into premature labour.

Slaintecare logo
This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 8.

Page last reviewed: 17 September 2019
Next review due: 9 June 2020