The first thing to do (if you can!) is try to stay calm. The stories you hear about babies arriving on the way to hospital or in the bathroom are the exception rather than the rule so you probably have plenty of time.
Checklist of things to do when your labour has started
- Call your planned 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 not sure whether this is really labour, phone your midwife or labour ward for advice.
- 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 – packed bag if you’re going to hospital, car keys or taxi number and money to pay for the parking meter or taxi.
- Pack your notes so you don’t forget to bring them.
- Try to relax!
When should I ring the hospital or midwife?
Get in touch with your midwife or the labour ward at the hospital whenever you need to for advice and support. The number should be on the front of your notes. Some women wait until their contractions are coming every five minutes but you can always call before this happens and the hospital or midwife will tell you when to come in.
Always let the hospital or birth centre know before you go in so they will be ready for when you arrive.
What will the midwife do?
Whether you're at home, in hospital or at a birth centre, when your midwife first sees you he or she will:
- check your blood pressure, pulse and temperature
- feel your tummy to confirm your baby's size and which way round she is lying
- check your baby's heartbeat
- if they suspect you are in labour the midwife may offer you a vaginal examination (only done with your permission) to see if the cervix has started to soften, thin out or open to get ready for giving birth.
Your midwife may do these checks every four hours or so to check how your labour is going. She will listen in to your baby’s heartbeat more regularly (at least every 15 minutes).
Who will be with me?
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. A second midwife will be called to be present at the birth.
If you are in hospital, your midwife will try to be with you but may be looking after other women as well. 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, put it in your birth plan.
Cutting the cord immediately after the birth has been routine practice for 50-60 years but more recently research is showing that it is not good for the baby.
Your waters can break before you go in to hospital but they are more likely to break during labour, or they can even be broken for you by your midwife to speed up your labour (a process known as artificial rupture of membranes).
Manage your anxieties about giving birth, with some helpful advice from mums who’ve been there.
The final few weeks of pregnancy can be difficult: You’re probably feeling impatient to meet your baby, nervous about labour and also tired of coping with carrying a heavy load - and all the niggles that come with it.
The membrane sweep is a drug-free way of helping to bring on labour when you are going past your due date.
Typical signs that your body is getting ready for labour.
The waiting game. It can be torturous. Your due date has been and gone, you feel the size of a mothership and you’re oh so tired of waddling to the loo every five minutes.
There are quite a few pain-relief options available and it’s good to know what they are before you go into labour.
Even if labour has got off to a good start, it can sometimes slow down or problems may arise. If so, you may need some help to deliver your baby safely. These procedures are called ‘interventions’.
A caesarean section is an operation where an obstetrician makes a cut in your stomach and womb and lifts your baby out through it.
In most pregnancies, labour will start on its own but in some situations your labour may need to be started artificially. This is called 'induction’ of labour.
Your midwife will check on how your baby is coping during your labour and there are different ways to do this.
- NICE (2014) CG 190 Intrapartum care: care of healthy women and their babies during childbirth http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190/chapter/1-recommendations#third-stage-of-labour
ℹLast reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.