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.

Read more about labour and birth

  • Heavily pregnant woman sat at home with soft lighting looking down at her bump with a neutral expression

    The latent phase of labour

    This part of labour can sometimes last a long time. This page explains what the latent phase of labour is and how to get through it as comfortably as possible.

  • A baby asleep in his mum's arms

    Blog

    Week 41. Hello baby - my birth story

    In the diary of a third pregnancy our diarist tries to capture the pain and magic of the birth of her son.

  • A photo of a heavily pregnant woman sat on the sofa listening to music with her eyes closed

    What is hypnobirthing?

    Hypnobirthing is a method of pain management that can be used during labour and birth. It involves using a mixture of visualisation, relaxation and deep breathing techniques.

  • A new mum and dad looking down at their newborn baby

    Having a home birth

    You might like to consider giving birth at home for a more relaxed experience in familiar surroundings. Find out whether this is the right option for you.

  • Waterbirth

    How to prepare for a water birth

    Are you thinking about having a water birth? Find out about the advantages and disadvantages of giving birth in the water, what to wear and what the pain relief options are.

  • Woman with baby resting on her chest after giving birth.

    Delayed cord clamping (DCC)

    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.

  • Pregnant woman holding her back.

    What to expect when your waters break

    If your waters break naturally, you may feel a slow trickle or a sudden gush of fluid that you can’t stop. Your waters may break before you go to hospital but are more likely to break during labour.

  • Pregnant woman holding her back.

    Braxton Hicks

    Braxton Hicks contractions are the body’s way of preparing for labour, but if you have them it doesn’t mean your labour has started. Here, we explain more about Braxton Hicks.

  • Pregnant woman in a yoga class

    5 positive ways to prepare for labour

    If you’re feeling a bit anxious about giving birth, there are things you can do that may help. Here’s some helpful advice from mums who’ve been there.

  • Pregnant woman sitting on exercise mat.

    Getting your baby into the best birth position

    The ideal position for your baby to be in for labour and birth is head down, their back towards the front of your stomach.

  • Pregnant woman holding her back.

    4 ways your body gets ready for labour

    At the end of your pregnancy, you may have some signs that your baby will arrive very soon, even though you may not go into labour for a little while yet.

  • Pregnant woman being checked over by doctor.

    What is a membrane sweep?

    The membrane sweep is a drug-free way of helping to bring on labour when you are going past your due date.

Sources

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)

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    Last reviewed on June 27th, 2019. Next review date June 27th, 2022.

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    Comments

    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.
    • By mummy d (not verified) on 27 Feb 2019 - 22:04

      why do I feel alot of pressure on my back does it mean am going into labour

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 28 Feb 2019 - 14:59

      Dear Mummy, Thank you for your comment.

      Back pain can mean a number of things, stretching ligaments from the pregnancy, early labour or even a urine infection. If this backpain is very painful and you think you may be going into labour then please call your local maternity hospital for further advice. Hope this helps, take care, Tommy's midwives x

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 3 Aug 2018 - 13:18

      Dear Razia,
      Please try not to worry, it is really normal for a pregnancy to go on beyond your due date. If you get to about a week overdue then your midwife should be making arrangements and talking to you about induction. Just keep an eye on your baby's movements in the meantime, any changes then contact your maternity unit straight away.
      Best wishes
      Tommy's midwife

    • By razia (not verified) on 2 Aug 2018 - 11:41

      I am 40week 1day i am really worried my labour pain not start

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