How does labour start?

The average length of pregnancy is between 37-42 weeks, and what actually causes labour to begin is still unknown. But there are few sound theories which can be used to help us figure what actually gets things going!

One of the theories that scientists believe begin labour is an increase in the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is our love hormone, which is going to be the focus of this blog post seeing as love is in the air this month!

Oxytocin is the hormone produced when we hug, kiss, and is the hormone that is needed for both men and women to climax in the bedroom. Essentially the energy that got your baby in, will get your baby out!

How do hormones work in labour?

  1. Baby’s head puts pressure on the cervix which acts as a stimulant to produce oxytocin
  2. Oxytocin increases in the bloodstream and causes contractions to start
  3. This causes your baby to tilt pushing closer to the cervix, and a positive feedback system is created with your brain and cervix increasing both contractions and oxytocin levels (so clever!)
  4. As contractions build in intensity and frequency this build in momentum will help you to bring your baby into the world

Oxytocin is an incredibly powerful hormone, learning how to maximise this hormone can make your labour more comfortable and straightforward. Sounds good, right?

What are the early signs of labour?

Well if we are to believe what we see in films, it’s a gush of water followed by a swift trip to the maternity ward. But actually, only 10-15% of women’s waters break before going into labour, and whilst it can happen, it’s usually not a ‘gush’, more like a trickle, when you get out the bath.

In the days before labour begins you might have some low backache, period type pain or even have what is known as a ‘show’.

A ‘show’ indicates that your cervix is beginning to open, and the mucus plug that has been keeping your baby tucked up in your cervix has come away. It is a sticky, jelly-like substance, and sometimes contains blood. If you are at all concerned about the amount of blood you are losing, it’s worth calling your midwife for a chat, but some blood is completely normal. Your mucus plug might come away in one piece, or you may have this for a few days.

For more info on the early signs of labour head over to this useful webpage from the NHS.

How will I know when I’m in labour?

Towards the end of your pregnancy, you may have experienced Braxton Hicks. These are the muscles around your womb tightening and releasing and are totally normal. Sometimes Braxton Hicks can be really uncomfortable for women, and they worry about how they’ll cope with the real thing when labour gets going. But there is an important difference between Braxton Hicks and labour contractions.

The important difference between Braxton Hicks and labour contractions is that with labour contractions, your body releases oxytocin. Because oxytocin crosses the brain, this also stimulates the release of beta-endorphins, and what you need to know about beta-endorphins is they are our bodies natural pain relievers. That’s why you want heaps of oxytocin when you’re in labour! The good news is there are some things you can do to boost your oxytocin. Check out my Instagram post for some tips:

Labour usually begins at nighttime, because this is when we are most relaxed and have an increase in hormones which make us feel safe, meaning that we can fall asleep more easily. Plus, oxytocin likes dark environments, so it’s more likely to release at nighttime too. 

Early labour can feel like period pains, or you might feel the sensations towards your back and your bottom. Unlike Braxton Hocks which can come and go, you can be sure you’re having contractions when they start coming regularly and get into a rhythm.

How can I keep my labour progressing?

Because our bodies are so clever, contractions can start and stop to keep us safe, depending on if you get scared or frightened in labour. This is because we have been giving birth since caveman times, and if a sabre tooth tiger was to walk in whilst you were giving birth, you’d want to get to a place of safety before you birth your baby. So it’s a system that is designed to keep you and your baby safe.

Now, fingers crossed, you won’t be dealing with any tigers on the day of your baby’s birth. But whilst society has evolved, our brains haven’t, and a birthing woman can be very easily frightened in labour, especially when we are brought up to believe that birth is something we should be afraid of.

It’s really important to deal with any worries that you have about birth well in advance of the day because very often the fears we have are subconscious. We can’t help the reaction our bodies have, for example, if you have a fear of spiders, you consciously know it’s highly unlikely a spider (at least in the UK) could harm you, yet you feel afraid and probably move to a place of safety. A subconscious reaction to a fear.


Hypnobirthing is a technique used for women and their partners who are worried about their birth. Don’t let the name put you off, it’s super effective and is such a good form of birth prep, even the Duchess of Cambridge has prepared for all three of her births with this technique, she even described her labour as enjoyable, imagine that?

You can find out more about it in my ‘What is Hypnobirthing’ blog here. But in short, Hypnobirthing is a combination of hypnosis techniques, breathing techniques, planning for your birth in a way that’s bespoke to you, learning how to navigate the maternity system and, importantly, learning the scientific information you need about how your body is perfectly designed for birth. Once you understand the logistics, plus have ways to keep you relaxed during birth, even if your birth takes a different path, you remove the fear. By having a birth that is free from fear, your hormones can follow the path that they need to keep labour progressing.

You really do have everything that you need within you to give birth, your body is incredible and has designed the perfect physical system to bring your baby into the world. By learning how to keep yourself as relaxed as possible, allow oxytocin to rise, and equip yourself and your partner with the knowledge that you need, you can begin to look forward to your baby’s birth rather than worry about it.

I teach private, group and refresher hypnobirthing courses on a regular basis. My next course is starting on March 1st and I am currently taking bookings. The ideal time to start the course is from 20 weeks of pregnancy, but you can book right up to 39 weeks, I promise you haven’t left it too late to prepare for a positive birth. Head to my website to book your space now.