I’m in labour – what happens now?

You know you’re in labour, but what should you do now? And how do you prevent being sent home from the hospital and told to come back later? Expert midwife Verona Hall explains all

A good strategy to start with is denial. Yes, really! We've all read the stories of first-time mothers giving birth to their babies in three or four hours, but these are very rare situations. If your labour starts in the night it is best to rest, you are certainly not going to wake up in the morning and find you have given birth. Denial will take you a good way through the early pre-labour stage.

But how does denial work? It’s simple - by focusing on how painful a situation is, the pain gets worse. Instead do something else. Pick up a duster, go shopping, watch a film, distract yourself. However, eventually you will not be able to deny that your labour has started. When you get to this stage you will find that your contractions are stopping you from doing things and you will now have to focus on breathing through them. This is a good time to inform your midwife or hospital.

Waters breaking

When your membranes rupture, you should always inform your midwife. Let her know the time they went and whether, at your last antenatal appointment, you were told that your baby’s head had started to engage into your pelvis. You will also need to tell her the colour of the waters, and your baby’s movements since the membranes ruptured.

If the waters are clear and it is in the middle of the night most hospitals will suggest you go to bed and await events. If you have not gone into spontaneous labour yourself, they will ask you to come into the hospital in the morning for a check up. They will listen to the baby, and do a low vaginal swab to check for signs of infection. A vaginal examination will not be performed unless you are having regular contractions.


Your contractions should be regular, lasting at least 55-60 seconds in duration; and about 5 minutes apart. This should be the pattern for a couple of hours with each contraction being the same intensity and increasing over a period of time.

Once this happens, it’s the ideal time to contact your midwife or hospital to let them know that you are in labour. Some mothers may want to go into hospital at this stage, some may want to stay at home a little longer, depending on how far away they live from the hospital. Listen to your body; if you are having a hospital birth, you will intuitively know when you are ready to go, and the next stage will begin.

Meet and greet

A midwife will introduce herself to you and show you to a birthing room. She or he will then ask for your hopsital notes, about your baby's movements and take a history of events since labour started. Your baby's heartbeart will also be monitored for about twenty to forty minutes.

During this monitoring period, the midwife may leave the room for a brief moment, but this is also the time when she will check your blood pressure and temperature, and discuss your birthing options. However, every maternity unit is different and every midwife has different ways of caring for clients.

Once it has been established that you are in active labour, and the monitoring has been satisfactory, then you will be able to mobilise according to your wishes and how your birthing is progressing.

The adventure is about to begin. Good luck!

Related links

Is This Really Labour? Every pregnancy and labour is unique and there is no way to predict exactly when your labour will start. Saying that, there are some clues which may make you think your baby is preparing to meet you. Midwife Verona Hall explains all…

Water babies: If you feel strongly that you want to avoid using pain-relieving drugs and medical intervention during your labour, it’s worth considering a water birth…

Natural Induction: Expert Verona Hall explains when it is safe to naturally induce labour, and how can you go about accomplishing it.

Caesareans - get the facts to stay in control: Expert Obstetrician Meg Wilson has the essential facts for prospective Mums

Dad's View of Pregnancy and Childbirth: We chat with two men about their experience of first-time fatherhood.

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Verona Hall has her own website, which has advice and information about the services she offers

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