Free express shipping across SA on all orders of R450 or more

What are the signs of true labour?

Pregnant female holding her belly

By Burgie Ireland RN RM SANC

Your gynae/midwives’ rooms are a happy place when you’re pregnant. Here you can compare tummy sizes and coping tips with other pregnant women. However, all those pretty pictures on the walls don’t tell you much about labour. As any second-timer will say – labour is hard work. How will you know when you are in labour? When should you go to the hospital and what can you expect?   

What is ‘true labour’?

Labour is when the cervix (mouth of the womb) opens into the vagina. When this mouth has opened a full ten centimetres, you will get the urge to start pushing. This is called the transitional stage. This is when your baby’s head slips into the vagina. This is possible because the vagina is made from elasticated tissue that can stretch like a sock.

The cervix also looks like a thick neck that needs to ‘ripen’ and pull over your baby’s head during the hours of active labour. But first, it needs to soften. This can take from a few weeks (if it’s your first baby) to literally a few hours for seasoned birthers. On average, it takes about an hour for the cervix to open one centimetre. Expect at least 10 hours of labour.

Three important signs of true labour:

  • Strong, regular contractions (about five minutes apart)
  • Show – blood-stained mucous plug
  • Water’s break

You will also experience warm-up labour, with a few episodes of false labour. These could be caused by Braxton-Higgs contractions, a bladder infection or even constipation.   

During the last few weeks of pregnancy, your doctor will keep an eye on subtle changes like blood pressure, weight loss, the shape of your tummy when baby’s head fits into your pelvis. For many women, the nesting instinct – a sudden splurge of energy to have everything ready – is very real.

What are contractions?

Contractions are when the muscle fibres of your womb muscles tighten and change their shape, becoming smaller, thicker and stronger so that they can help you push your baby out. During the hours of labour, while the cervix becomes thinner, the top of the womb, called the fundus, becomes thicker. After the birth, the womb feels like a hard ball. With breastfeeding hormones, contractions continue over the next six weeks, and help the womb to shrink back to its original size – about the size of your fist. Amazing!

More about your ‘show’:

This is a mucous plug inside the cervix that protects the womb from infections. When the cervix opens, this mucous plug (slightly blood stained) comes away.

Waters breaking:

This odourless, straw-coloured amniotic fluid has collected between your baby’s head and your pelvis during labour. The membranes or bag that encapsulates your baby is thin and easy to tear. It tears when contractions are strong and the fluid is released. The remainder of amniotic fluid helps to ‘flush’ the baby out during the birth.

Top tips:

  • Have a bath if you’re unsure whether this is true labour
  • Phone the labour ward and speak to a midwife about your contractions. She will advise you whether to come into the hospital or to wait
  • Go to the hospital only when you have strong, regular contractions every five minutes
  • Walk upright. It helps the baby’s head to engage into the pelvis
  • Make sure your birthing partner knows what to do.

Good luck

Previous Next