With baby’s due date nearing closer, there are many questions you may have. You can learn more about labour and birth through prenatal classes at Southwestern Public Health.
Labour typically begins between the 37th and 42nd week of pregnancy when your body and the baby are ready. Plan to wait for labour to start naturally unless medical concerns arise.
Be prepared before labour starts.
Some ways to get ready for labour include:
- Creating a birth plan
- Taking a prenatal class to learn more about the labour process and how to care for your baby
- Creating a support team to help you through your labour
- Consider hiring a doula to help you through the labour process
- Packing a bag for the hospital for yourself and your labour supports
- Packing a bag for the hospital for the baby
- Planning a route to the hospital
- Collecting supplies needed for a home birth if this has been arranged with your midwife
Watch for early signs of labour in the last few weeks of your pregnancy.
During the weeks leading up to your due date, your body will go through some changes as it prepares to birth the baby. You may notice:
- Breathing has become easier as the baby “drops” lower into the pelvis
- Increased vaginal discharge or the loss of your mucous plug
- Irregular cramping or Braxton Hicks contractions
- A burst of energy
To learn more, visit the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Preterm labour is labour that begins before the 37th week of pregnancy. Preterm labour can lead to preterm birth. Babies who are born preterm often require special care and need to stay in the hospital until they are strong enough to come home.
Be alert for signs of preterm labour especially if you are at risk.
You may be at a higher risk of preterm labour if:
- You have had preterm labour or a premature baby in the past
- You have had several miscarriages
- There are concerns about your cervix being short
- You have a urinary tract infection or a sexually transmitted infection
- Your water breaks (membranes have ruptured) before the 37th week of pregnancy
- You are pregnant with more than one baby
- You were underweight before getting pregnant or you are not gaining enough weight during pregnancy
- You smoke, drink alcohol and/or use illegal drugs
- You are under 18 or over 35 years of age
- You have a lot of stress or violence in your life
- You do hard work at your job or at home
- You work shifts
- You stand for long periods of time
- You spend extended amounts of time in an area with extreme temperatures
It is important to get immediate medical attention if you think you may be in preterm labour.
You should see your health care provider if you have any of the following signs before 37 weeks of pregnancy:
- You have cramps or contractions in your uterus that are happening more than normal for you or more than 4 in an hour. These contractions may not be painful.
- The cramps or contractions do not go away or are not getting better no matter what you do.
- You have cramps or contractions that are becoming more uncomfortable or painful.
- You are bleeding or experiencing an increase in vaginal discharge
- You think your water has broken, you feel a gush of fluid from your vagina or your underwear is more wet than usual.
- You have a low backache that is getting more uncomfortable, you have pressure in your bowels like you need to use the bathroom or pressure in your pelvic area or vagina.
- You just don’t feel right.
For more information:
If you are having strong, painful contractions that occur regularly, your labour may have started. You or one of your labour support people can begin to time the contractions from the start of one to the start of the next.
For some people, labour may start by their water breaking, but this does not happen in all situations. If you think that your water has broken, contact your health care provider. Take note of the:
- Colour of the fluid
- Odour of the fluid
- Amount of fluid
- Time the water broke
If the fluid is dark or green in colour, head to the hospital right away. If there is a large amount of bleeding, call 911 for an ambulance.
If labour is progressing well, you are coping with the labour process and there are no concerns from your health care provider, people generally labour at home until the contractions are about 5 minutes apart. This time may vary depending on how far away the hospital is, including any traffic or construction that may delay you getting to the hospital.
Having a support person with you during labour can help to provide emotional support and practical help. People who have good support in labour often:
- Cope better with labour pain
- Use pain medication less often
- Need fewer medical interventions
- Have a shorter labour
- See labour and birth as a positive experience
Having a support person or a group of support people with you during labour and birth can make it easier and more enjoyable.
It is important to choose support people that you trust, make you feel comfortable and who will be able to encourage you and advocate for you during labour. A support person could be your partner, a relative, a friend or a doula (a trained labour support person you have hired to support you during labour and birth).
You will need to check at the hospital where you plan on having your baby if there is a limit to how many people can be in the room with you during labour and birth.
Partners and other support people need to take care of their physical and emotional needs, too.
Labour can be long. It is important that your partner and other support people take care of themselves so they are able to support you. The labour support team will need to keep hydrated, have some healthy snacks and rest when they have a moment.
For more information:
If at any point during your prenatal care or during labour there is something suggested that you are unsure of, ask questions until you understand. Understanding why assessments and interventions may be needed during labour and birth can help you make decisions that are best for you and your baby.
To know what questions to ask, think of BRAIN:
- B – What are the benefits?
- R – What are the risks?
- A – What are the alternatives?
- I – What is your intuition or inner voice telling you?
- N – What if you say “no” or “not right now”?
There are many different options to help you cope with labour pain. Review and practice some comfort measures to learn what may work best for you before labour begins.
Do what makes you feel comfortable during labour.
Some comfort measures may include:
- Changing positions
- Using a birthing ball
- Using a shower or bathtub
- Having someone massage your back, hands, feet or other parts of your body
- Distraction activities such as watching television, reading, surfing the internet
- Listening to music
- Meditation or visualization techniques
- Breathing exercises
For more information:
- Comfort in labour
- Healthy birth your way: Six steps to a safer birth
- Positions for labour
- Practicing breathing techniques for labour