In films, the pregnant woman’s waters break in the middle of the night, she runs around the house in a panic, her husband forgets the bag and then they speed off to the hospital. Pregnancy and the onset of labour are usually depicted in a more dramatic way than they are in real life. Here is how you can distinguish real signs of labour from a false alarm.

Real signs that your baby is coming

Labour pains come at regular intervals and with increasing intensity over a long period of time. To help tell whether you are in real labour use the 4-1-1 rule: if contractions are four minutes apart, last for about one minute and recur for one hour or more, the chances are you are in labour. Other sure signs are that your waters break or your mucus plug comes out. Your midwife or doctor can confirm and measure changes in your cervix via a pelvic examination. If the cervix is dilating, your baby is on the way.

False alarms

Pre-labour, or Braxton Hicks contractions, are common from the 16th week of pregnancy onwards. These ‘practice contractions’ are usually painless and irregular. They do not form any sort of pattern, nor do they last very long or dilate the cervix. Among first-time mums, they often go unnoticed or are written off as cramps or muscle spasms.

How much time do I have until my baby comes?

If you think you are in labour, take a moment to assess your pain levels and the intensity of the contractions. Stay at home and take a relaxing bath. There is no need to rush to the hospital just yet. If this is your first birth, bear in mind that first-time labours tend to progress more slowly. The early labour stage can last anywhere from two hours to more than a day. However, listen to your body and do what you feel you need to do.

Every pregnancy and onset of labour is different. Contact your hospital, health professional or midwife for advice.

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