Am I in Labour?

Am I in Labour? - 20 weeks and over

At the start of labour, your cervix starts to soften so it can open. This is called the latent phase and you may feel irregular contractions. It can take many hours, or even days, before you're in established labour (when your cervix has dilated to about 4cm and regular contractions are opening your cervix)

Having sex can sometimes give you tightenings in your tummy. These usually stop by themselves.  You may also notice a small amount of blood loss following sex (post coital bleed). 


Contact your maternity unit immediately if you think you are in labour and have any of the following:

  • You are less than 37weeks pregnant

  • You have fresh (bright red) vaginal bleeding, rather than a blood stained mucous show or light spotting

  • You have had a previous quick labour and birth or live far away from the hospital/ birthing centre

  • Your baby is moving less than usual

  • You have been told by your midwife or doctor to call as soon as labour starts

  • You are planning on having a caesarean section

Contact your maternity unit if you have any of the following:

  • You are having strong, regular contractions about 3 in every 10 minutes that last longer than 30 seconds

  • Your waters break

  • You feel you need additional pain relief or support

If you are having any of the following you can stay at home. You can contact your maternity unit whenever you need extra support or advice. 

  • You are having contractions/ tightenings but they aren’t yet strong or regular. It is likely your contractions will continue until they become strong and regular (about 3 in every 10 minutes). But sometimes they stop completely and start again later on. This is normal.

  • You are having Braxton Hicks contractions that are irregular and settle with paracetamol. Braxton Hicks are “practice contractions”. They are usually irregular and either settle by themselves or with paracetamol. They are not a sign of the start of labour and will not cause your cervix to open

  • You have a mucous blood stained show. This is a sign your body is preparing for labour but not that it will happen straight away.

Self Care

  • During the latent phase, it's a good idea to eat and drink regularly because you'll need energy for when labour is established.
  • If your labour starts at night, try to stay comfortable and relaxed. Sleep if you can.
  • If your labour starts during the day, stay upright and continue with your daily activities. This helps your baby move down into your pelvis and helps your cervix to dilate.
  • Breathing exercises, massage and having a warm bath or shower may help ease pain during this early stage of labour.
  • Paracetamol is good pain relief during the latent phase, 2x 500mg (1g) every 4 to 6 hours not exceeding 4g in 24hours). Do not take Ibuprofen whilst pregnant. You can find your local pharmacist here.
  • You can call your maternity unit at any point you need extra advice or support.
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