If you're pregnant and in your third trimester, one of your concerns might be what labour will feel like, and how to spot the early signs of when your labour is imminent.
Some women experience very distinct signs of labour, while others do not. That's why we've spoken to some experts and real mums to help you spot hormonal and physical changes that may indicate the beginning of labour.
Midwife Anne Richley shares her advice on what to expect when labour is near:
Although many women report ‘nesting’ in the days beforehand, feeling that they need to have everything ready for their baby and are constantly cleaning and ‘preparing’, for the majority there are no signs that labour is imminent.
Before labour starts, you might see a blob of mucus in your pants or when you go the loo, this is the ‘show’, which has been sitting at the entrance to your cervix throughout pregnancy, helping to protect your baby from infection.
However, although a 'show' means some women will start to go into labour in the next few days - many do not. However if the bag of waters around your baby breaks, releasing the amniotic fluid, most women will then go into labour within twenty four hours, but if this doesn’t happen you’ll probably be advised to have labour artificially started (induced) to reduce the likelihood of infection to your baby.
Chances are you’ll get no signs and will just become aware of a gradual discomfort in your lower abdomen and back, similar to how you’d feel before a period.
Alison Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Midwifery at Birmingham City University, says:
Some women will experience a mixture of ‘signs’. Sleep patterns may change with women being more wakeful at night, they may start to do activities that involve adopting comfortable positions e.g. kneeling as this relieves back ache (some call this the nesting instinct). As the baby’s head moves down the birth canal women may also appear that their bump is lower (some call this lightening).
Other signs could include passing a plug of mucus from the vagina. This is like uncooked egg white with streaks of blood in it sometimes. It is called a show and means that the cervix is beginning to soften and possibly open up a little bit.
The other thing they may experience is niggling back ache or discomfort in the groin area alongside more frequent tightening of the womb muscles.
Boots UK pharmacist Angela Chalmers says:
It really depends on woman to woman. But common signs are lower back pain, very mild period-like pains (the niggly kind that you can get when you are due to start your period), a sudden drop in height of your baby bump and the urge to empty your bowels. You may get some, none or all of these symptoms! It's important that you are taking it easy & listening to what your body is telling you. Have your hospital bag ready & keep in touch with the midwives at your maternity unit as they will advise you on what to do at each stage.
Knowing whether or not labour is near is a hot topic on our forum. Check out what other mums have to say about their experiences:
"I had no signs at all. Midwife attempted a sweep on the tuesday but my cervix was unfavourable so she couldn't do it. Woke up on the friday with a bit of backache, 7 hours later I had my baby in my arms! Was 41+1 with first baby. Good luck, i'm sure it will happen for you soon!" says Tigerlily13
“Hi, I'm 40 weeks + 2 and I'm soo fed up of waiting for labour to start! I lost my plug last week but it wasn't blood stained, on my due date I had very pale pink watery discharge when I wiped but it wasn't thick so I don't think it was part of my plug. I had an unsuccessful sweep also on my due date but the midwife said my cervix is soft and I am 2cm? baby's head is very low so she couldn't reach the top of my cervix to strip the membranes. (I'm so confused) last night I had one episode of very loose bowel movement and it was a lot but may be because I haven't been regular for the past week? (sorry tmi)! I haven't had any BH I don't think? And I had bad back ache for a few hours but it disappeared when I went to bed. All I have done for the past 2 days is sleep and I haven't had a nesting instinct apart from 4 weeks ago! Sorry to ramble on and on but I'm so confused about whether labour is near, has anyone else gone into labour without the usual signs days before?” says Mummytobe94
Mums-to-be have also shared their personal experiences on what it felt like for them before going into labour:
"I felt very restless the day before i went into labour (went into labour during night with both of mine) all i wanted to do was go shopping-had nothing to get but HAD to go and walk round shops.- i say walk loosely as I was hyperventilating and on cructhes for spd but i still HAD to!" says iwantanotherpls
"Didn't really feel any different. My waters started to go about 36hrs before, so had an inclination it could be labour when I started getting regular braxton hicks or so I thought. Nothing else really gave it away that my baby was coming! x" says xkelx
"I felt totally normal then went to the loo wiped and my plug was coming away at 6pm, I then woke up at 1am with contractions." says mum2jaynjas
"I'm feeling similar to you, I'm 39 weeks today. I've had period type pains since 35 weeks getting steadily more painful/consistant over the last week. I've been losing my mucus plug for the last week or so and last night it was tinged with old blood (I guess this is the bloody show). This morning, I was getting pains every 15-20 for about 3 hours but nothing now. I've also been horribly hot all day. I just can't cool down. Also, I feel like I'm coming down with a cold so the heat could be something to do with that. I so want this baby out!" says newt88
What did you experience before labour - did you have any signs that labour was near? Tell us below, head to our Facebook page or tweet us @Baby_Expert