Giving birth

Information on the stages of labour.

Preterm labour

Preterm labour is when you have regular contractions and you are 20 to 37 weeks pregnant. Regular contractions are 4 or more in 20 minutes or about 8 or more in 1 hour. You may also be having preterm labour if you have:

  • Leaking or gushing of fluid from your vagina

  • Pain that feels like menstrual cramps

  • A feeling of pressure in your pelvis or lower belly, back ache, or are generally not feeling well

If you think you may be in labour, contact your health care provider. Then, go to the hospital to be checked. This can make a big difference to your baby's health.

Signs of labour

Planning ahead will help you when your labour starts. Talk to your midwife or doctor about your plans for early labour and when they want you to contact them.

It's best to call your doctor or midwife if you suspect you are in the early stages of labour. You can tell you're in this stage when you are:

  • Having contractions that are regular and uncomfortable, usually 3-5 minutes apart and lasting 45-60 seconds

  • Leaking or your water breaks.

  • Having vaginal bleeding, or show (pink tinged vaginal mucus).

KEY: If your baby stops moving or moves less than usual, you're unsure or have concerns or if you've been advised to call for other reasons, call your health care provider immediately.

It can be hard to know if you are in labour or having pre-labour contractions. If you're still not sure if you are experiencing pre-labour or true labour, follow these tips:

  • If it's night time, try to sleep. You need to be well rested for childbirth. In true labour, you may not be able to sleep but will at least rest. If you fall asleep, it's most likely pre-labour.

  • Take a shower. The contractions in pre-labour will often become less frequent and shorter. In true labour, the contractions will continue no matter what you are doing and taking a shower can be comforting.

  • Distract yourself. Watch a movie, walk in the garden, play cards. If you are in true labour, the contractions will demand your attention. If it's pre-labour, you may be able to carry on with your usual routines.

Signs of early first stage labour include:

  • Irregular contractions

  • 'Show' (slightly pink vaginal mucous), or

  • Your water leaking or breaking

Try and rest as much as possible during early labour, eat a light meal, carry on with your regular activities. Here are some tips for coping with early labour.

If you membranes rupture, and you are in very early labour. You will likely return home to wait for labour to start.

Going to the hospital

Return to the hospital if:

  • Contractions become regular, stronger, increasing in intensity, duration and frequency

  • You feel ill, feel hot, or have chills

  • The amniotic fluid (water draining onto pad) becomes green or develops a bad smell

  • You have bright red bleeding like a menstrual period

  • You are uncomfortable staying at home.

Contact your health care provider if you have any concerns.

Active first stage of labour is when your contractions are stronger, and come every 3 to 5 minutes and last 45 to 60 seconds. You will want to contact your health care provider and let them know you are in labour. You may decide to go to the hospital now.

Pain relief in labour

Pain is a natural part of labour and birth, and every woman's experience with labour is different. You may choose to cope with contractions through:

An Epidural is commonly used to reduce pain in labour and birth, once you are in active labour. There are risks and benefits to having an Epidural in labour that you should discuss with your health care provider.

Learn more about pain relief options for labour and birth.


After giving birth, get as much rest as you can and give yourself time to heal. Don't be afraid to take the pain medication that was ordered or prescribed by your doctor or midwife. Learn more about recovery in our parents & baby section.