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Labour and Birth

This section covers how best to prepare for the birth, how to tell when you are in labour and what to expect in labour and the birth.

Please remember that every birth is unique in it's own way and things may not always go to plan, however being prepared and informed is always a good idea.

How to make a birth plan

A birth plan is a record of what you would like to happen during your labour and after the birth. You don't have to create a birth plan but, if you would like one, your midwife will be able to help.

This NHS Guide takes you through what is a birth plan, things to consider and how to share this with those looking after you during your birth.

You can download a birth plan template (Word document 65KB, opens in a new window) to fill in and save.

Choosing your birth location

You can give birth at home, in a unit run by midwives (a midwifery unit or birth centre) or in hospital.

Your options about where to have your baby will depend on your needs, risks and, to some extent, on where you live.

You should discuss your options with your midwife and you can also get information from

  • children's centres
  • your GP surgery
  • local maternity units – find maternity services near you
  • Maternity Voices Partnerships (MVPs) – ask at your local hospital's maternity unit

You may also want to get advice from your friends and family.

Talk to your midwife about going to have a look around the local maternity services, and ask questions if you do not understand something or think you need to know more.

There is an NHS helpful guide which takes you through the things to consider with each option. You can view this guide by clicking here

Packing your bag for labour

You should have your bag packed and ready at leaset 3 weeks before your due date. Ensure that the bag is in an easily accesible place and that both you and your birthing partner know where it is.

You can view the NHS advice on what to pack in your bag by clicking here .

You can view the NCT checklist by clicking here

You can download a printable checklist from babycentre by clicking here

Information for birthing partners

Whoever your birth partner is – the baby's parent, a close friend, partner, or a relative – there are many practical things they can do to help you. 

The NHS have produced a top tips section for birthing partners during labour. You can view this by clicking here

You can view NCT's ten tips for birthing partners by clicking here 

You can view a very practical set of tips of birth partnres from Emma's Diary by clicking here

Watch NCT's video guide here:

Watch new Dad, Ross, talk about his experience:

Signs that labour has begun

There are several signs that labour might be starting, including:

  • contractions or tightenings
  • a "show", when the plug of mucus from your cervix (entrance to your womb, or uterus) comes away
  • backache
  • an urge to go to the toilet, which is caused by your baby's head pressing on your bowel
  • your waters breaking

The early (latent) stage of labour can take some time.

To view a detailed guide as to what signs to look out for, what contractions feel like and what to expect in each stage of labour click here

What happens at 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 asked to go in to be checked.

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

  • regular
  • strong
  • about 5 minutes apart
  • lasting at least 60 seconds

If you do not 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 midwife sooner.

Do not forget to phone the hospital or unit before leaving home, and remember to take your notes.

If you're 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.

You can view a guide as to what to expect when you arrive at the hospital or birth centre by clicking here

Pain relief in labour

Labour can be painful – it can help to learn about all the ways you can relieve the pain.

It's also helpful for whoever is going to be with you during your labour to know about the different options, as well as how they can support you. 

Ask your midwife or doctor to explain what's available so you can decide what's best for you.

Write down your wishes in your birth plan, but remember you need to keep an open mind. You may find you want more pain relief than you'd planned, or your doctor or midwife may suggest more effective pain relief to help the delivery.

You can view a guide to the different methods of pain relief in labour by clicking here

This NHS video explains what pain relief will be available to you in labour:

This short video talks through both the natural ways you can ease the pains of labour as well as the pain relief available

What happens after birth

It's natural to focus on your baby's birth while you're pregnant. But it's a good idea to also know what to expect after labour.

You can view the NHS guide to what to expect after labour by clicking here .

You can view the NCT's guide on what to expect after labour by clicking here .

Below is a short video explaining what happens after your baby is born: