The signs of labour are fairly recognisable but woman who are in doubt should contact their midwife. There are two main signs that labour has begun—there is a “show” which is a plug of mucus from the cervix being released and strong and regular contractions. There is also a rupture of the membranes, which most woman say that their waters have broken, and an urge to go to the toilet as the baby’s head is pressing on the bowel.
During pregnancy, a blob of sticky, jelly-like mucus is in the cervix and just before labour starts, this blob can pass out of the vagina. It is usually pink in colour because it is stained with blood and a small amount of blood mixed with the mucus is normal. This indicates that the cervix is beginning to open which means the start of labour.
Contractions mean that the womb or uterus is tightening and then relaxing. If these contractions become painful, occur on a regular basis, feel stronger and last for more than 30 seconds, then this can also indicate that labour has started. During labour, the contractions get stronger, last longer and are more frequent. When they occur every five minutes or so and last between 30 and 60 seconds, it is time to call the midwife or go to hospital, if the baby is to be delivered in a maternity ward.
An unborn baby grows and develops inside a bag of fluid called the amniotic sac. Either before labour begins or during labour, the sac breaks and all the fluid drains out of the vagina, something that is known as one’s waters breaking. The breaking can be a sudden gush which cannot be controlled or a trickle and the fluid itself has a pale straw colour and is clear. Waters that break before labour require immediate attention from the midwife as the baby is no longer protected without the amniotic fluid and infection could occur.
There are three stages to labour. The first one requires that the cervix open or dilate to about 10 centimeters so that the baby can pass through. It is the contractions at the start of labour that make the cervix soft so it can open. This can take several hours, established labour is when the cervix is open more than 3 centimeters. Then it can take many hours longer, particularly in a first pregnancy to fully dilation. Women should not try to push until the cervix is fully open and the baby’s head can be seen.
The second stage is when the cervix is fully dilated and a woman is giving birth. This is the hardest part of the birth process as it requires a woman to breath when the contraction starts and then give several pushes until the contraction ends. This process occurs repeatedly until the baby is born and can take about an hour.
During the third stage, which is actually after the baby is born, there are more contractions until the placenta is pushed out through the vagina. A midwife will administer injection to speed up the delivery of the placenta.