From irritability to nesting: The five subtle signs you're in labour.

If you’re currently waiting for labour to start, chances are you’re content one minute and a ball of tears and frustration the next. 

It can be a really challenging time, but remember, your body is doing all the good work of preparing for labour, so let it do its thing. And remember, you won’t be pregnant forever (I promise you that). 

Was that something? Is this it? That felt different! Oh, I think that might have been a contraction...

Watch: Your questions about childbirth, answered by mums and non-mums. Post continues below. 

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If you’re nearing the end of your pregnancy or you’ve gone past your estimated due date, chances are you’re thinking that every little twinge and symptom is a sure sign of imminent labour. 

There is no definitive answer as to when early labour will commence nor is there a predictable timeline to follow which can be really frustrating, especially if you’re wary of a looming induction. 

It’s for this reason that I really encourage you to surrender to the experience; early labour is as unpredictable as birth.

And 95 per cent of babies aren’t born on their estimated due date (around 85 per cent of first time mums go past their estimated due date) so holding out hope that labour will commence on that magic day that you’ve circled in your diary isn’t always a good idea. 

The best thing you can do at this stage as you wait and wonder (and cry and stomp and growl) is embrace all the things that make you feel comfortable, happy and relaxed; doing so reduces stress and adrenaline, which gives oxytocin - the key driver of contractions - the opportunity to flow and kick start labour. 

It’s also recommended that you turn off your phone because messages begging for news ("baby?") can be some of the most frustrating you’ll ever receive. 

You really don’t need the added pressure from curious friends and family at this stage because let’s face it, no amount of texts are going to hurry up labour. 


It’s good to remember that early labour can often go on unnoticed for days, as your body does all the subtle yet important work of preparing. 

Now is a good time to remember that your body knows exactly how to do this. You just need to sit back and trust the process. And your estimated due date is exactly that - an estimate. Your baby will come when they’re ready. 

As you wait in that heavy, emotional time that is late pregnancy, be mindful of the following symptoms as they’re subtle signs that labour isn’t too far off. 

1. Irritability.

A rise in the hormone oxytocin can definitely make you feel irritable, but consider this a really good sign. 

When your baby signals that they're ready to be born, your body responds by releasing oxytocin (commonly referred to as the 'love hormone') which prompts the first contractions. 

Now is the time to let go, cry, stomp and release. Let the oxytocin flow. Other ways to get oxytocin flowing? Anything that makes you feel comfort and love. 

Cuddles with your partner, sex (if your waters haven’t broken!), laughing at a movie, dancing, singing and eating nourishing food. 

2. Loose bowels.

If you’ve noticed that you’re going to the toilet more frequently, if your stools are loose or you have diarrhoea, your body is essentially clearing out and preparing for labour.

This is a strong indication that labour isn’t far off. 

Sometimes loose bowels will be accompanied by a bit of nausea, a disinterest in food and perhaps even vomiting. 

It’s important to note that if your vomiting is persistent and you can’t keep anything down, it’s best to contact your care provider. You don’t want to get dehydrated before labour has begun.

3. Mucus plug.

Your mucus plug sits in your cervix throughout your pregnancy to prevent bacteria from reaching your baby (consider it an extra layer of protection).

As your cervix thins and shortens before it starts to dilate, your mucus plug will dislodge and come away, either in one clump or in a few bits at a time.

This is an encouraging sign that your body is warming up for labour, but it can also mean that there’s still days till things really kick off. 

If your mucus plug is a bit bloody (just a bit, not a lot), this is known as a "bloody show" and you can expect labour to begin very soon. 


If there’s a lot of blood (more than two tablespoons or it looks a bit green or brown) or if you are under 37 weeks pregnant, you’re best to contact your care provider immediately.

4. Lower back pain.

Of course, your lower back will naturally be achy at the end of pregnancy because the hormone relaxin has softened all your ligaments in preparation for labour and your baby is increasingly heavy. 

Often, labour starts in your back, not your belly, and will manifest as a dull ache or increased pressure; it may feel a bit like period pain. 

This is a really positive sign.

If the discomfort is keeping you awake at night, lie on your side with a hot water bottle pressed against your lower back or have a warm bath. 

You may even like to try some gentle cat stretching on all fours to release any tension and surrender to the experience. Welcome these physical sensations. This is the labour that will bring your baby to you.

5. Nesting.

The primal urge to "feather your nest" in preparation for your baby’s arrival is a really healthy sign that labour is imminent.

You may also notice that you have a heightened sense of smell or hearing; your senses are on alert.

You will typically want to cocoon and not talk to anyone outside your home; you’re turning inward in preparation to get into the private, quiet, safe labour space. If you notice you’re feeling more comfortable in dim, dark rooms, this is also a good sign. 

Melatonin is a hormone that works alongside oxytocin to drive contractions and its only released at night. 

Lastly, if you have a pet that all of a sudden won’t leave your side, you can presume their protective tendencies are on show because they intuitively know that labour is close.

Sophie Walker has a Masters in Public Health, is a mum to three boys, and is the founder and host of Australian Birth Stories podcast that has over eight million downloads and is endorsed by the Australian College of Midwives. She also has a range of education resources available, including her online birth preparation course,  The Birth Class. Every week on the podcast she shares an interview with a woman who steps into her most vulnerable space to detail all the precious details of her pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience. Each story is unique hence the podcast is an amazing education resource for pregnant women, their birth support partners and professionals working in perinatal health. 

Feature Image: Canva.

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