However, for a lot of women it may be difficult to be sure if the waters have broken. Many women describe feeling ‘damp down below’ due to the increased amount of vaginal discharge that is normal at the end of pregnancy. If you find that you have to wear a sanitary pad due to the amount of fluid you are losing, you need to consider if your waters could have broken. One way for you to check is to have a shower, dry the vaginal area well and put on a maternity sanitary pad. If that pad quickly becomes damp or wet, it is likely that your waters have broken.
When the waters break, the fluid may be clear or slightly straw coloured. Sometimes there may be a vague tinge of pink in the waters. This is normal and should not alarm you. If your waters have broken, you should come in for a check-up to ensure all is well with you and your baby. If the fluid is green or green/brown in colour or heavily blood stained, you should come into the assessment and emergency unit immediately.
Please remember to bring with you any stained sanitary pads you have for the midwife or doctor to see.
Show - as the cervix (neck of the womb) starts to stretch, a plug of mucous may be released. Typically, this plug or ‘show’ is bloodstained and sticky. This bloodstaining will be old brown blood or light pink. Many women describe a show as being like the very beginning or very end of their period. You should not see bright fresh blood. Not all women will have a show before labour starts and a show is not a sure sign of labour.
Pain - very early in labour, you may experience irregular cramping pains, like period pains. You may also have backache and a heavy sensation in your pelvis. This is all completely normal and is an encouraging sign that your body is getting ready for labour.
Restlessness - not being able to focus on one thing, or being unable to sit still but not really being sure what you want to do. Not all women feel like this.
What to do in the early part of labour
These signs may indicate that you are about to go into labour. However, there is also a chance that everything will stop and you may carry on being pregnant for a while longer. It is important not to get exhausted in the early part of labour so rest is very important. If you are getting period-like pains, have a warm bath and go to bed for a few hours. Even if you cannot sleep, just relaxing and listening to some music may help you later on.
Don’t forget to eat - labour is hard work for your body so you will need food to keep going. Eat what you feel like. You may find that you would like pasta, bananas and other carbohydrate rich foods. Even if it is the middle of the night, cook some pasta and sauce if you fancy it. If you don’t feel particularly hungry, then try some cereal and milk or toast and honey. And don’t forget about fluids. It is so important not to get dehydrated during labour. While at home, keep a bottle of water near you and keep sipping it.
The pains will become more regular and last for longer as labour progresses. Between contractions, you will have no pain. So, if you are getting a contraction every seven minutes, lasting 45 seconds, then for over six minutes you will be pain free! The advice for coping with contractions at home is:
Keep active - movement is great for helping with pain and for encouraging labour. Stay upright during the contraction and try swaying and rocking your pelvis as the contraction reaches the peak. Sitting and swaying on an inflated gym ball is also a great way of staying active.
Use of warm water - in the early stages of labour, many women find a warm bath a great way to relax and to cope with the contractions. Standing in a warm shower with the water directed at your lower back is also helpful.
Breathing - there is no magic formula to describe breathing in labour. The advice is to take slow, easy breaths. Some women tend to hold their breath during a contraction while others breathe too fast. It is always better to breathe slowly - in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Music and visualisation - the use of calm, quiet music is great for keeping you relaxed. Imagine holding your new baby and how happy you’ll feel as your baby is placed into your arms for the first time. Try to imagine your baby’s face and the feel of their skin. Visualisation (imagining) is great for reminding you of the end point of this journey.
Endorphins - your body is designed to cope with labour. As your labour starts, your body produces natural pain relievers called endorphins. These morphine-like substances flood through your system and allow your body to cope with the increasing frequency and strength of contractions as your labour progresses.
TENS machine - the ‘transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator’ or TENS machine works by delivering small electrical pulses through the skin via electrodes placed on your back. The TENS machine consists of four pads that are placed on your back and a small hand-held battery-operated device. The electrical pulses are thought to ‘block’ pain messages reaching the brain and stimulate the body’s naturally occurring painkillers – the endorphins mentioned above. Women using TENS often report less pain.
TENS machines work best if used early in labour. TENS machines can be rented prior to labour and can be used at home and left on when coming into hospital. If you are considering hiring a TENS machine, you should contact your local supplier for further information. It is a good idea to become familiar with the instructions for placing the pads on your back and how to work the machine before the big day.