When the contractions start coming at three minute intervals, it's a good time to leave if this is your first pregnancy and your waters haven't broken. If your waters break, call the maternity clinic to ask if they think you should come in.
For a repeat pregnancy, usually time to leave when the contractions come at five to six minute intervals. However, you should always call and consult a midwife before leaving for the hospital. Read more about things to pack in your bag for the hospital.
Every labour is unique and each maternity clinic is different. However, here you can get a general idea of what to expect if you have chosen to give birth in hospital or at home with your own midwife.
Meeting your midwife
When the midwife has registered you, she will take your blood pressure and pulse. She will feel your belly to check the baby's position and listen to the baby's heartbeat. She may also check how much you have dilated. She will ask about your contractions, when they started and how frequent they are.
If you have written a birth letter describing what you want to happen during the labour, give it to the midwife now. There are several advantages of writing a birth letter. One is that if the midwives change shifts while you are at the maternity ward, the new midwife will get complete information about your preferences. Another is that you may be too tired to clearly explain your preferences after several hours of labour.
You can also discuss your preferences regarding labour and pain management. Do you want to get up and walk around during the contractions? Or have a bath? Maybe you want a specific anaesthetic. Should the baby be laid on your stomach immediately? Do you want to keep the baby with you until the first time you breastfeed? Does the father/partner want to cut the umbilical cord?
The baby's heart rhythm and contractions
After this a CTG will be performed to measure the baby's heart rhythm and the interval between the contractions. This allows the midwife to assess the baby's condition and how it will cope with the contractions.
You don't need to remember all the questions you want to ask as soon as you arrive. A lot of things happen during labour, and you can ask the midwife questions as you go along. Tell her how you're feeling and whether you have any special requests or needs.
The first stage of labour
At this point, you might have a warm bath to relax and relieve your pain. This midwife will not stay with you all the time during the first stage of labour. She will come in at regular intervals to see how you and the baby are doing. The midwife will continuously monitor your labour and check up on you and your baby. She will feel how much you have dilated and can help you choose the right pain relief if you need it.
Your midwife will guide you
The midwife is your guide, expert and counsellor. Ask her for advice and support. Don't hesitate to tell her if something doesn't feel right. It's important for both of you. You might have changed your mind about something in your birth plan, and that's okay. Remember she's there to help you and the baby. If you need the midwife, you can ring the bell. She will be there with you all the time during the next two stages where you actively push and expel the baby.
The partner's role during labour
If you are the other parent or partner and want to be actively involved in the birth, ask the midwife questions and stay informed. Your partner really needs you now. The best thing you can do is to help, support and encourage her as much as you can. If you are actively involved in the labour, it strengthens the feeling of intimacy and cooperation right through until the baby is born.
Going over the birthing experience
After the birth, it's a good idea to talk through what happened. This is an important part of the birthing process. Ask all the questions you want and discuss your feelings and experiences with the midwife. This meeting can also be an important part of preparing for the next time you give birth (if you go on to have another baby), even if that idea seems far off at the moment.
Read about the first days at home with your newborn baby. Also read about the woman's body after labour and check-up visit after 8-12 weeks.
Needless to say, there is a lot of focus on the woman and the baby during labour. Speaking to the midwife afterwards gives the father or partner a chance to be involved. Seeing your child being born is a strong emotional experience. Afterwards, it can feel good to talk about what happened and ask any questions you might have.
Download our free app, The Pregnancy Book. There you will find tips, advice and information about labour.
At the maternity ward – meeting your midwife
It's finally happening! Grab your bags, grab each other and leave for the hospital. After all those months of waiting, it's finally time.