Signs to look out for to help you determine whether you are in labour and should head to the hospital:
- Lightening – this is the sensation that your baby has dropped downwards and the head is now nestled firmly in your pelvis. The baby can ‘drop’ a few weeks or a few days before labour begins. This primarily happens for first-time mothers. For women who have had babies before, the baby doesn't usually "drop" until after you go into labour.
- Showing of the Mucus Plug – an increase in vaginal discharge or a show of clear or slightly bloody mucus indicates that the plug of mucus formed in your cervix during pregnancy has been pushed out as your cervix begins to dilate. This can occur a few days or even weeks before labour begins.
- Rupture of Membranes or Water Breaking – fluid or water will trickle or gush from your vagina, indicating that the amniotic sac that surrounded the baby during pregnancy has broken. This can happen a few hours before labour - in which case you should call your doctor to determine what you should do - or any time during labour.
- Contractions – through the last few weeks of your pregnancy you may have experienced ‘false’ contractions called Braxton-Hicks. These are tightening sensations of your uterus that can be painful or not and come and go at irregular times. The uterus is a muscle, so think of Braxton-Hicks as training exercises for a marathon. Some women's uteruses train a lot, some train only a little. True labour contractions can feel like back pain or strong menstrual cramps. As labour begins the cervix starts to dilate or open and the uterus contracts at regular intervals. Real contractions are strong, can be painful, and get stronger and closer together as time progresses. Contractions do not go away with movement or rest. If you feel you are having true contractions, time them to see how far apart they are and note if they are increasing in strength.