Pregnancy and baby

At the hospital or birth centre

When should I go to hospital?

Media last reviewed: 11/04/2012

Next review due: 11/04/2014

When to go to the hospital or birth centre

If it's your first pregnancy, you may feel unsure about when you should go into hospital or a midwifery unit. The best thing to do is to call your hospital or unit for advice.

If your waters have broken, you'll probably be told to go in to be checked.

If it is your first baby and you are having contractions but your waters have not broken, you may be told to wait. You'll probably be told to come in when your contractions are:

  • regular
  • strong
  • about five minutes apart
  • lasting about 45-60 seconds

If you don't live near your hospital, you may need to come in before you get to this stage. Make sure you know the signs of labour and what happens.

Second babies often arrive more quickly than the first, so you may need to contact the hospital, midwifery unit or your midwife sooner.

Don't forget to phone the hospital or unit before leaving home, and remember to take your notes.

If you are planning a home birth, follow the procedure you have agreed with your midwife during your discussions about the onset of labour. Make sure you know the signs of labour.

What to expect at the maternity unit

Maternity units vary, whether they are in hospitals or midwifery units, so the following is just a guide to what is likely to happen.

You can talk to your midwife about the way things are done at your local hospital or midwifery unit, and what you would like for your birth. If your wishes can't be met, it's important to understand why.

Your arrival

If you carry your own notes, take them to the maternity unit's admissions desk. You will be taken to the labour ward or your room, where you can change into a hospital gown or other clothes of your own.

Choose something that is loose and ideally made of cotton, because you'll feel hot during labour and won't want to wear anything tight.

Examination by the midwife

The midwife will ask you about what has been happening so far and will examine you. If you are having a home birth, this examination will take place at home. The midwife will: 

  • take your pulse, temperature and blood pressure, and check your urine
  • feel your abdomen to check the baby's position and record or listen to your baby's heart 
  • probably do an internal examination to find out how much your cervix has opened, so they can then tell how far your labour has progressed (tell your midwife if a contraction is coming before they perform this examination, so that she or he can wait until it has passed) 

These checks will be repeated at intervals throughout your labour. Always ask about anything you want to know. If you and your partner have made a birth plan, show your midwife so they know what kind of labour you want and can help you to achieve it.

Delivery rooms

Delivery rooms have become more homely in recent years. Most have easy chairs, bean bags and mats so you can move about in labour and change position. Some have baths, showers or birthing pools. You should feel comfortable in the room where you are giving birth.

Some maternity units may offer you a bath or shower. A warm bath can be soothing in the early stages of labour. Some women like to spend much of their labour in the bath as a way of easing the pain.

Water births

Some maternity units have birthing pools so that you can labour in water. Many women find that this helps them to relax. If labour progresses normally, it may be possible to deliver the baby in the pool. Speak to your midwife about the advantages and disadvantages of a water birth. If you want one, you'll need to make arrangements well in advance. 

Find out more about what happens during labour and childbirth

Preparing for birth

This video from Best Beginnings shows four prospective mums - Melissa, Maria, Teresa and Angela - as they prepare for the births of their babies.

Media last reviewed: 22/10/2014

Next review due: 22/10/2016

Page last reviewed: 28/01/2013

Next review due: 28/01/2015

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Signs that labour has begun

Including contractions, waters breaking, backache and having a "show"

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