What to do if you go into labour
- Maternity helpline
- 020 3312 6135
Important phone numbers
For birthing people registered with St Mary’s Hospital:
- Labour ward: 020 3312 1060
- Birth centre: 020 3312 2260
- If you’re not sure which department to call, contact triage: 020 3312 5814
For birthing people registered with Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital:
- Labour ward: 020 3313 3900 or 3025
- Birth centre: 020 3313 1140
- If you’re not sure which department to call, contact triage: 020 3313 4240
If you are booked for a home birth, please call your midwife directly.
How do I know if I’m in labour?
When you have a contraction, the muscles in your womb tighten and you may experience pain. Once the muscle relaxes the pain goes away. Early contractions can feel like strong period pains.
It’s a good idea to time your contractions. If your contractions last longer than 60 seconds, come in waves of equal strength and are regularly spaced out coming around every three to five minutes for over an hour, then you are likely to be in labour. You should contact the triage phone number or the birth centre number for the hospital site you’re registered with for further advice.
If you are unsure if you are having contractions or if you should be going into hospital or not, you should also call your birth centre or triage phone number.
If you think your baby is coming very quickly and you are feeling an urge to push, please call 999 and contact the London Ambulance Service.
Please note back pain is not necessarily a sign of active, established labour.
During pregnancy there is a mucus plug present in your cervix. When this plug comes away, you may see pink or brown sticky, jelly-like mucus leave your vagina, (known as a ‘show’). It may be a sign that your labour is going to start in the next day or so. A show is not the same as waters breaking; when your waters break you will see clear fluid.
You do not need to ring us if you have a ‘show’ unless you are bleeding.
During pregnancy your baby is surrounded by a sack of fluid called membranes. Most pregnant people’s membranes ‘rupture’ during labour. This is known as your ‘waters breaking’. Some women’s waters break before their contractions start.
Once your waters have broken there will be a continuous leaking fluid from your vagina, that you are unable to control. Some women see a large amount of fluid when their waters break, while others only see a trickle or have mild dampness.
If you believe your waters have broken, please call us and we will see you within four hours to check whether or not they have. If your waters have broken, we will wait for 24 hours to see if your labour starts on its own or if you prefer, we will offer to induce your labour (start your labour off for you) as soon as we can.
If your waters break and the colour is green, brown or heavily blood-stained, please come into the hospital straight away and, if possible, call the unit you’re registered to deliver with on the way.
If your waters break and the colour is clear, pink or straw coloured. It is important to call the triage unit for the hospital you’re registered with.
When should I contact the labour ward or birth centre?
The labour ward and birth centre provide advice and support to all pregnant people over 20 weeks pregnant, not just those in labour. Please contact us if you are experiencing any of the following:
- You think you are in labour
- Your waters break · You are worried
- You are concerned about your baby moving less than usual
- You have vaginal bleeding
- You have fever, headache, blurred vision or abdominal pain
- You go into labour, but are booked at a different hospital and wish to come to one of our hospitals
What happens when I contact you?
When you contact us, we will need to ask some questions to find out about you and your baby. If you are in labour, we will ask you about your contractions including how regularly they are happening, and how strong they feel.
If you have other concerns, we will ask you to tell us what they are, how you are feeling and how you think the baby is doing including questions about its movements. Based on your answers, we may ask you to come into hospital to be checked.
When will we ask you to come in?
We will ask you to come into hospital if:
- Your waters break
- You think you are in active, established labour. Your contractions are a good indication of whether you are in established labour. When in active, established labour, each contraction will last 60 seconds or more, be of equal intensity and pain or happen regularly and in a predictable pattern over one hour. · If you are not in labour but you have concerns about your baby’s movements, we will ask you to come in for monitoring.
- If you have vaginal bleeding and are more than 20 weeks pregnant or you have fever, headache, blurred vision or abdominal pain.
- Something else we think needs checking further.
What can I do in early labour to manage the pain at home?
What can I do in early labour to manage the pain at home? The early stages of labour can be uncomfortable, but you should try and manage the pain at home until it is time to come into hospital. We cannot give any stronger pain relief to people in the early stages of labour than they can get at home. Home is also a much more comfortable place to be than hospital.
There are lots of pain relief options that you can try to make yourself more comfortable, these include:
- Ask your birthing partner to massage your lower back
- Apply a form of heat to your lower back area or soak in a warm bath or shower
- Use a TENS machine: this is a device which transmits gentle, electrical impulses through your skin via an electrode pads you stick onto your lower back. Some pregnant women find it helps manage the pain associated with labour but you will need to arrange this in your pregnancy by either hiring one or buying one
- Use a birth ball to sit upright and forwards
- Take a mild painkiller like paracetamol, if you are not allergic
What do I do if I experience vaginal bleeding?
If you are bleeding and have been pregnant for less than 20 weeks, call the early pregnancy assessment unit on 020 3313 5131.
If you are bleeding and have been pregnant for over 20 weeks, please contact our triage phone or the birth centre where you are booked in.
Who can I bring to hospital with me?
Visit our maternity patient information page to read the most up to date guidance on who can support you during labour.
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My wife had our baby on the labour ward in July and we had a wonderful experience all round. We had a lovely midwife who really looked after us and supported our wishes. All the staff are great and really relieved our anxieties.Anonymous