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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Braxton Hicks is the name given to the action when the womb contracts and tightens with your bump becoming hard to touch; it then relaxes again, becoming soft.
Manage your anxieties about giving birth, with some helpful advice from mums who’ve been there.
The ideal position for your baby to be in for labour and birth is head down, their back towards the front of your stomach.
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.
The membrane sweep is a drug-free way of helping to bring on labour when you are going past your due date.
From contractions to your waters breaking, these are the typical signs that your body is getting ready for labour.
At some stage during pregnancy, it’s good to think about where you'd like to give birth, who will be your birth partner and what you would prefer to happen during labour and delivery.
- 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.