1) Your waters break
This is what happens when the amniotic fluid sac surrounding baby ruptures. You may feel a huge gush, or have a slow trickle that lasts several days. “Waters can break any time during labour or birth,” says antenatal teacher Philippa Bennett.
“Grab a sanitary towel, then call the hospital,” advises midwife Erika Thomson. “A nurse will ask you about the fluid: It should be a straw-like colour and have a sweet odour.” If it’s greenish, your baby has emptied her bowels and you’ll need to go straight to hospital to check for infection. Otherwise, stay at home — your labour is likely to start within the next 72 hours (yes, three whole days).
2) Your panties have a “bloody show”
The mucus plug that sits inside the cervix during pregnancy will be expelled during labour. “It will look blood-tinged and jelly-like, and can come out either in one go or in bits,” Thomson says. “‘Speak to a doctor or nurse to confirm it’s a show and you’re not just bleeding,” says Bennett. “Then eat, sleep and relax.”
3) Your back aches
An ache in your lower back can mean your baby is lying with her back to yours and rotating into the right position for labour. “This can take a few days and may be painful,” Bennett says. “Or it could be the start of your contractions — some women experience them more in their back than their stomach.”
4) You feel contractions
First, rule out Braxton Hicks. “These short, painless, tightening sensations mean your uterus is gearing up,” Thomson explains. Real contractions tend to start weak and feel like period pain, then grow in frequency and intensity. Your labour is usually “established” when you have three one-minute contractions within 10 minutes.
When the contractions become so intense you struggle to talk, you’ll know it’s time to make your way to the hospital.