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Pregnancy

      When to go to hospital for labour

      Pregnancy exercise

      Going into labour signals the start of a very special journey, one that’s different for everyone. Of course there’ll be similarities with friends and family members (and previous births if you're already a mum), but ultimately, each labour is a very personal and individual experience.

      If you’re wondering when to go to hospital in labour, it’s always best to contact your midwife or the hospital as soon as you start to experience some of the early signs of labour. By talking to you, they’ll be able to assess how you’re progressing and whether it’s time for you to go to hospital.

      Here we’re taking a closer look at when to go to hospital when your labour begins, and some practical tips and advice so that you’re all ready to meet your baby.

      "I’m in labour, when should I go to the hospital?”

      There’s no way to pinpoint exactly when you’ll need to go to the hospital once your labour starts, particularly if this is your first baby. That’s why it’s always best to call ahead for advice before heading to the hospital. Doing so will also ensure that the unit is expecting you and ready for your arrival.

      As a general rule, if your waters have broken1 you’re already in established labour or you  feel that things are progressing quickly, you might be told that you’re ready to go in. If that’s the case, it’s time to get your hospital bag, maternity notes and get ready to go.

      However, your midwife will want to get a full understanding of your situation and your pregnancy before making a decision.

      When should you call the hospital or your midwife in labour?

      It’s always best to telephone your hospital or midwife as soon as your labour starts. That way, you can be advised about what’s happening and what your next steps are.

      Get in touch with your midwife if:2

      • Your waters have broken. 
      • You’re having regular and strong contractions.
      • You feel as though you need pain relief to manage your contractions.

      Remember that your midwife is there to help, so if you’re worried about anything at all when your labour starts, contact them for reassurance and advice.

      What your midwife will want to know

      When you call your midwife, they’ll ask you a series of questions in order to gather a full picture of what stage you’re at in your labour.

      As well as establishing how you’re feeling and coping with your labour, they’ll want to know:

      • How long you’ve been having contractions for, how far apart they are and how long they last.
      • When you last felt your baby move.
      • If your waters have broken or you have any vaginal discharge or bleeding.
      • Whether it’s your first baby.
      • How far away you live from where you’ve chosen to give birth (you may need to go in sooner if you’re not close by)3.

      Based on the information you give them, your midwife will then advise on whether you need to head to hospital straight away, or wait at home a little longer.

      Are you having regular contractions?

      Contractions are just one of the many signs that your baby is on the way to meet you. Just like labour, contractions are a different experience for each individual, you can learn more about what they feel like here.

      You’ll probably be advised to stay at home until your contractions have settled into a regular pattern and are:4

      • Strong.
      • Regular.
      • Lasting at least 60 seconds each.
      • About 5 minutes apart.

      We’ve got lots of helpful advice and information to help you stay in the know throughout your pregnancy and birth. Take a look at our article on the three stages of labour. Recognising what stage you’re at can give you a good idea of how your labour’s progressing and how close you are to delivering your baby.

      Do you already have children?

      If this isn’t your first baby, you might want to contact your hospital or midwife sooner, as labour is often quicker with second and third babies 5.

      When to call your hospital or midwife straight away during labour.

      You should always call the hospital if you experience any of the following:6

      • A show - the plug of mucus that has been sealing your cervix comes away
      • Your waters breaking
      • Contractions
      • Backache
      • Feeling like you need to go to the toilet (due to baby’s head is pressing on your bowel)

      If you aren’t able to call, head straight there so that they can make sure everything’s ok and give you the attention you need. Don’t be afraid to call for an ambulance if you’re on your own and unable to get to the hospital yourself. 

      Can I call an ambulance for labour?

      As a general rule of thumb, unless it’s a genuine emergency, it’s best to call your hospital or midwife in the first instance. They’ll be able to advise you on the best course of action and whether you need to call for an ambulance.

      Always call for an ambulance if:7

      • You have a strong urge to push and are about to give birth.
      • You’re experiencing strong and persistent abdominal pain outside of your contractions.
      • You’re having difficulty breathing or experiencing chest pain.

      Never be afraid to follow your instincts. You know your body and your pregnancy, so if you feel that something’s not quite right, then don’t be afraid to call for an ambulance, particularly if you’re on your own and unable to get to the hospital yourself.

      Are you having a home birth?

      If you're having your baby at home you should follow the procedure you’ve agreed with your midwife. Again, if in doubt, call them for advice.

      Could it be a false alarm?

      When you’re waiting to meet your little one for the first time, every tiny twinge can leave you wondering whether it’s time for your labour to begin.

      Your body might start preparing for your baby’s arrival with Braxton Hicks contractions, also known as practice contractions. They’re often described as a tightening over your baby bump which lasts for approximately 20-30 seconds8.

      Braxton Hicks contractions are completely normal and nothing to worry about. However, if you start to experience pain, and the contractions become more regular and get closer together as time goes on, it’s time to call the hospital or your midwife as you might very well be in labour.

      Managing pain at home

      If you’re not yet in established labour, it’s likely you’ll be told to stay at home until your labour progresses further. Try to relax and allow things to progress naturally.

      To manage any discomfort, try:9

      • Moving or walking around.
      • Rocking gently on a birthing ball.
      • Taking a warm bath.
      • Trying some relaxation or breathing exercises.
      • Using a TENS machine.

      And don’t forget, there are plenty of ways your birth partner can support you too.

      Tips for your birth partner

      Your birth partner is there to support you at every stage of your labour and birth. They’ll want to help you feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible whilst you focus on bringing your baby into the world.

      Here’s a few things they can do to keep you calm, and stress to a minimum:

      • Call the hospital to keep them up-to-date with your progress.
      • Provide ongoing reassurance and encouragement.
      • Run you a warm bath.
      • Massage your back.
      • Grab you any drinks or snacks you might need.
      • Set up the TENS machine
      • Help you with any relaxation or breathing techniques you’ve been practicing.
      • Support you while you try different positions.
      1. National Health Service. What happens at the hospital or birth centre [online] 2020. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/signs-of-labour/what-happens-at-the-hospital-or-birth-centre/ [Accessed December 2021]
      2. National Health Service. The stages of labour and birth [online] 2020. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/what-happens/the-stages-of-labour-and-birth/ [Accessed December 2021]
      3. National Health Service. What happens at the hospital or birth centre [online] 2020. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/signs-of-labour/what-happens-at-the-hospital-or-birth-centre/ [Accessed December 2021]
      4. National Health Service. What happens at the hospital or birth centre [online] 2020. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/signs-of-labour/what-happens-at-the-hospital-or-birth-centre/ [Accessed January 2022]
      5. National Health Service. The stages of labour and birth [online] 2020. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/what-happens/the-stages-of-labour-and-birth/ [Accessed December 2021]
      6. National Health Service. Signs that labour has begun [online] 2020. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/signs-of-labour/signs-that-labour-has-begun/ [Accessed January 2022]
      7. National Health Service London Ambulance Service [online]. Available at: https://www.londonambulance.nhs.uk/calling-us/calling-999/advice-if-you-are-due-to-give-birth/ [Accessed December 2021]
      8. National Health Service Start 4 Life. Week by week guide to pregnancy [online]. Available at:  https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/pregnancy/week-by-week/3rd-trimester/week-33/ [Accessed December 2021]
      9. National Health Service. Pain relief in labour [online] 2020. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/what-happens/pain-relief-in-labour/ [Accessed December 2021]

      Last reviewed: 6 January 2022
      Reviewed by Nutricia’s Medical and Scientific Affairs Team 

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