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Wondering what labour really feels like? Here’s our guide to the first signs of labour, plus what happens at each stage. And at the end of it all, you get to meet your new baby!

Wondering what labour really feels like? Here’s our guide to the first signs of labour, plus what happens at each stage. And at the end of it all, you get to meet your new baby!

How do I know I’m in labour?

Most labours start slowly, and you might be wondering if this is it. First signs of labour include:

A ‘show’

Some women lose a plug of pink mucus called a show.

Lower back ache

It feels a bit like period pain.

Waters breaking

When your waters break, the membrane holding the amniotic sac (which holds your baby) has started to leak. If this happens, call the hospital and speak to a midwife for advice.

Stages of labour

Early labour (0-3cm dilated)

What’s happening?

Labour can last anything from an hour to a few days. In the early stage you’ll have mild contractions, which can be from 5 to 20 minutes apart.

How will I feel?

Slightly uncomfortable and perhaps a bit anxious. Try to relax – you may have a while to go yet.

What can I do?

Take your mind off the contractions – go for a gentle walk, watch TV, read a magazine – whatever works for you. A TENS machine can help early labour pain – see Pain relief in labour.

Active labour (4-10cm dilated)

What’s happening?

At 4cm dilated, your baby will start to slowly move downwards. As contractions increase and you reach 10cm, you’ll begin to feel the urge to push.

How will I feel?

This is hard work – active labour can last from one to six hours, or longer. Staying upright and mobile can help labour progress. Do ask for pain relief if you need it.

What should I do?

Listen to your midwife. Once the baby’s head has crowned, you may feel some more contractions. Push as if you were doing a poo. As the baby’s head comes through, you’ll feel huge pressure (and possibly a burning pain), followed by a rush of relief and joy as your baby is born!

Third stage of labour

What’s happening?

It’s nearly over – just the placenta to deliver.

How will I feel?

This is a breeze compared to giving birth!

What should I do?

You may be offered an injection to speed up this process and you’ll need to push again. The midwife will talk you through it.

Take your mind off the contractions – go for a gentle walk, watch TV, read a magazine – whatever works for you.

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