The right time to call your midwife or go to the hospital is when you feel you would be more relaxed if she was close by. For some people this is when contractions are still infrequent, and for others it's not until they have strong contractions at five-minute intervals. When you meet your midwife, go over the second stage birth process with her. She will tell you how she can help you avoid any cuts or tearing and ensure that your baby comes out gently.
For about one in ten women, the waters break at the beginning of labour. If they do, you will probably notice a trickle of fluid that dampens your underwear rather than a torrent of fluid making a puddle at your feet! The waters should be clear or straw coloured.
If you think your waters have broken, phone your midwife or the hospital and tell them how much fluid you have lost and what colour it is. You will probably find that your midwife wants to come to see you, or you may be invited to go to the hospital for a check.
There is a small danger of the cord coming down through the opening cervix, and blocking off the baby's supply of oxygen (a 'prolapsed cord'). This is rare but it is an emergency and needs immediate treatment.
If your waters are muddy or smelly, this means that your baby has had his bowels open inside the womb - which can sometimes be a sign that he is short of oxygen, although not always.
A baby's first bowel movement is black and sticky and is called meconium. If a baby has his bowels open in the womb, the waters in which he is floating will be stained by the meconium. Meconium-stained waters particularly fresh meconium can mean that the baby is distressed and the labour will need careful monitoring. Old meconium staining will mean that your baby has been stressed in the past.