Tommy's PregnancyHub

What to do when labour starts

You can call your midwife or hospital straight away if you think you’re in labour. You will usually be assessed over the phone.

The first thing to do is try to stay calm. The stories you hear about babies arriving on the way to hospital or in the bathroom are the exception, not the rule. You probably have plenty of time.

If you're not sure whether this labour has started, phone your midwife or labour ward for advice.

Checklist of things to do when your labour has started

  • Call your birth partner, or partners, to let them know.
  • Write down how much time there is between your contractions and how long each one lasts. If you have a smartphone you can use the timer function.
  • If you're having a home birth, let your midwife know you think labour has started.
  • If you have other children and have arranged a babysitter, let your babysitter know. 
  • Check you have everything you need. If you’re going to hospital make sure you have your bag, car keys or taxi number and money to pay for the parking meter or taxi.
  • Don’t forget to pack your pregnancy notes.
  • Try to relax!

“My contractions started at home after my waters had broken. I rang the maternity unit who asked a lot of questions to assess my condition. I was advised to stay at home to begin with before eventually going to the hospital during the early hours of the following day.”

Nicola

When should I ring the hospital or midwife?

You can call your midwife or hospital straight away if you think you’re in labour. You’ll probably be offered an early assessment on the phone.

Your midwife will:

  • ask how you feel (any tightenings, bleeding or if your waters have broken)
  • ask you about your birth plans, hopes and any concerns
  • ask about your baby's movements, and especially about any changes in this
  • explain what you can expect in the early stage of labour, including things you can try to help with pain
  • offer you support and pain relief, if needed
  • tell you who to contact next and when
  • give advice and support to your birth partner (if you have one).

Your midwife may believe you’re in the latent phase of labour. If this is the case, you’ll probably be recommended to stay at home where you can stay as comfortable as possible. You're more likely to have a smoother labour and fewer interventions if you stay at home until labour is stronger and your contractions are regular.

Established labour is when your cervix has dilated to more than 4cm. At this point, you’ll start having stronger, longer and regular contractions. Contact your midwife, maternity unit or labour ward again when:

  • your contractions are regular and coming about 3 in every 10 minutes – you could use your phone to time them and there are lots of apps available that may help you keep track
  • your waters break 
  • your contractions are very strong, and you feel you need pain relief – if you are in severe pain during the latent stage you can ask for an epidural
  • you're worried about anything.

Your midwife, maternity unit or labour ward will advise you when to come into hospital.

Who will be with me during labour?

If you're having your baby at home, your midwife will be with you all the time unless you ask to be left alone with your birth partner for a while.

Once you’re in established labour, you should have one-to-one care from your midwife. There may be a student midwife working with your midwife. Your birth partner can be with you all the time.

If you have decided who you would like to have with you, you can put it in your birth plan.

NICE (2014). Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies. National Institute for health and care excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190

The Royal College of Midwives (2012) Evidence based guidelines for midwifery-led care in labour. Latent phase.

NHS Choices. What happens during labour and birth https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/what-happens-during-labour-and-birth/#first-stage-of-labour (Page last reviewed: 30/04/2017. Next review due: 30/04/2020)

Review dates

Last reviewed: 27 June, 2019
Next review: 27 June, 2022