When Does Labour Technically Begin?

by Judi (Burnaby, Canada)

Hi, I’m in the long process of making my son’s baby book and I’ve never found a satisfactory answer to when my labour began.

I remember people giving me averages of a first birth, prior to my son’s, but I was blessed with a little guy that really wanted to come out and meet me and his papa! Basically, two pushes and POP!

Of course there were contractions before, but as my son was 11 days earlier than his due date, I thought I was in false labour for most of the day (and most of it was really manageable). Any thoughts would be appreciated.



Hi Judi,

It’s actually pretty hard to say when labour actually “starts” because it tends to do so gradually.

In the movies and on television we see women out shopping or eating at a restaurant then suddenly they’re screaming and bowled over in pain (or their water breaks and instantly labour is going full force.)

That’s not the way it happens in real life, though. Maybe every once in a great while, but in general, labour begins gradually as you experienced.

Most midwives will not mark the start of labour, but of “active labour.” That is usually when you must focus completely on your labour and work with your contractions. Usually this happens around 4-6cm but it can happen earlier or later.

Labour doesn’t have to be a long, hard ordeal, either. My last baby was like your little one – he was ready to meet us. I had slow labour-ish contractions throughout the day, then they got harder for a couple of hours and then “pop” out came my little Galen in two pushes, just like that. The midwife hadn’t even thought I was in good labour and had gone home to sleep!

If you noticed your contractions turn from just pressure (a normal Braxton-hicks) to more cramp-y and like your period was going start, that’s often a good indication labour is beginning. Having a bloody show can also indicate it. But even with these slightly cramp-y contractions labour can be very manageable.

I hope this helps a bit Judi – in the end it’s just sometimes hard to figure out when things begin!

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About the author 


Kristen is a pregnancy coach, student midwife, and a mama to 8 - all born naturally! I've spent nearly two decades helping mamas have healthy babies, give birth naturally, and enjoy the adventure of motherhood. Does complete support for a sacred birth and beautiful beginning for your baby resonate with you? Contact me today to chat about how powerful guidance and coaching can transform your pregnancy, birth, and mothering journey <3

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