As your due date nears, this will probably be one of your top questions and the seemingly unhelpful response that many mamas-to-be receive is "You'll just know." Whilst this is actually quite accurate in most cases, there are signs that can indicate early labour and on the opposite side of things, some women haven't realised that they're in labour until they're about ready to push.
One of the earliest signs that can be an indicator of labour being just around the corner, is when you have a show and start to lose your mucus plug. It really is just as it sounds and essentially it's the little plug of - you guessed it - mucus, sealing the entrance of your cervix. This can come away slowly over a few days, or it comes all at once and sometimes you won't actually lose your plug until you're in established labour, but for many women a mucus discharge is a big sign. It can be tinged with blood and this is normal, but if you think that you're losing more blood than you should be then it's vital to contact your midwife immediately to be checked over.
Braxton Hicks are false contractions and sometimes they can be quite strong, leading women to wonder whether they will be able to tell when they're having true contractions. The key here is that Braxton Hicks - which you can have for most of your pregnancy - are not regular, don't steadily increase in intensity and will often ease off if you change your position.
True contractions may feel like period cramps initially, but you'll know they're the real deal by timing them and seeing some regularity after a while, which then gradually increases. They will also still come irrespective of your position (although keeping active is known to help things to keep progressing) and they may also be felt alongside lower back ache and pressure low down in your pelvis as baby prepares to be born.
Spontaneous rupture of membranes is the medical term for your waters breaking and for some women it's a trickle whilst for others their waters all come it at once. It's messy, so it's advisable to sit on a plastic bag in the car and use a disposable mattress protector in bed in case your waters go in those places! Your waters protect the baby from infection in the womb, so if you suspect that yours have broken then call your midwife or birthing unit because it's important that labour does progress once this has happened.
When it comes down to it, your gut instinct is a powerful thing and if you feel different in any way and think that you are in labour, then your midwife will be absolutely happy to check you out and see how you're doing.
Ready to have your baby? Deep breath mama, you got this!