Am I in labour?

Am I in labour? Is it braxton hicks or even hiccups?

When I trained in pelvic health as a physiotherapist we taught an active birth class that described labour in 3 stages. For instance, it is widely acknowledged amongst health care practitioners that:

The three stages of medical labour:

Stage 1 – Beginning of labour were you can still move around and have breaks between contractions.
Stage 2 – Active labour; pushing phase
Stage 3 – Delivery of your placenta, the afterbirth.

However after reading Milli Hill’s 14 phases of labour I was awestruck. Labour can be different for each and everyone of us but also there will signs to look out for.

Marie Fell - The Pilates Physio

She beautifully describes how labour actually FEELS which I think is very empowering and moreover, helps to reduce the fear factor many of us have from media portrayals of birth. I love the titles of these phases.

Milli Hill’s 14 phases of labour:

1. The Nothing Doing Phase – the calm before the storm, restless, nesting.

2. The Maybe Something is Happening Phase – surge of hormones, cleaning, emotional, you might lose your mucus plug (blob of jelly that seals your uterus).

3. The Niggling Phase – tightenings in your bump become harder to ignore, eat and sleep here to conserve your energy is advised.

4. The Ramping Up Phase – your tightenings demand your full attention.

5. The Cracking On Phase – welcome to labour land your tightenings are more often, more intense and last longer. You focus on riding the waves.

6. Transition – the love hormone turns to adrenaline to energise you to give birth. Many can feel fear at this change but it’s your body’s way of telling you, you ARE giving birth. You can do it.

7. The Rest and Be Thankful Phase – a pause, ‘quietude’ you gather your strength and take the leap of faith into birthing your baby. This only happens to a few people and can be confused as “stalling of labour”. Listen to your body and trust it knows what it has to do.

8. The Pushing Phase – your body feels pushy, like it wants to push. This can be blended into the other phases and can vary in length.

9. Crowning – can be felt like a strong burning sensation, often called The Ring of Fire, its over very quickly and not all people feel the stinging/burning sensation.

10. The Head Being Born – a stretching sensation and often huge sense of relief.

11. The Body Being Born – there is a pause before the next surge arrives but often this bit is like “a slippery eel” moving out of you.

12. Baby in Arms – the magical moment of meeting your baby for the first time. Skin to skin time if you and baby are well and delayed cord clamping until it stops pulsing is ideal.

13. The Placenta Coming Out – this comes out with surges and often surprises most by how big it is. Feels like a “big blob of jelly”.

14. The Tea and Toast Phase – the best you’ve ever tasted! Midwives will be checking your vulva for signs of tears. High on elation you often really don’t care at this point.

Here’s a great link I found which will help!

With all my pregnant ladies, I would always explain how labour pains felt in your abdomen (tummy) is often a great sign that baby is in an optimal position with its spine to your abdomen.

If you go into labour with twinges in your back or you feel your tightenings more in your lower back, then baby is likely lying spine to spine which is less optimal as baby will come out star gazing (looking up) which is not the easiest route out through your pelvis.

If you experience the latter, try getting in forwards lean positions or on all fours to help baby turn so they are no longer spine to spine. This can happen during labour so don’t worry that it’s too late. (Take a look at the baby position for birth post in this section).

So, how to tell if your twinges are Braxton Hicks or true tightenings? Your uterus will have several “practise” contractions which normally come and go and don’t have any set pattern or rhythm to them. Your body is super clever at preparing you for birth.

Hiccups are normally repetitive in nature and you don’t feel “tightenings” at the same time. Your tummy may physically “jump” or you may feel inside a hiccup sensation.