Patients and visitors
Learn what to do if you or someone else is in labour
Women in labour
If you think you or someone you know may be in labour, please contact:
St Mary’s Hospital
020 3312 5814
020 3312 2260
020 3312 1060
Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea Hospital
020 3313 4240
020 3313 1140
020 3313 3900/3025
If you are booked for a home birth, please call your midwife directly.
How do I know if I’m in labour?
- Contractions: when you experience a contraction, the muscles in your womb tighten and you may experience pain. Once the muscle relaxes, the pain subsides. Initially contractions can feel like strong period pains. If your contractions last longer than 60 seconds, and come in waves of equal intensity and at regular intervals every three to five minutes for over an hour, then you are likely to be in labour and should contact our triage phone number or the birth centre where you are booked in for further advice.
- A ‘show’: 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 but you do not need to ring us unless you are bleeding. It is different to when your waters break where you will see clear fluid.
- Waters breaking (see below)
Please note back pain is not necessarily a sign of active, established labour.
When should I contact the labour ward or birth centre?
You should contact us when:
- You think you are in labour
- Your waters break
- You are worried
- You are concerned about your baby moving less than usual
- You experience vaginal bleeding
- You experience 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
How will I know if my waters have broken?
During pregnancy your baby is surrounded by a sack of fluid called membranes. Most pregnant women’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 experience mild dampness.
If you believe your waters have broken, please call us and we will see you within four hours to confirm 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) as soon as we can.
- If your waters break and the colour is clear, pink or straw coloured, please call us
- If your waters break and the colour is green, brown or heavily blood-stained, please call us and we will ask you to come in to the hospital straight away
When will we ask you to come in?
- If your waters break
- If 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 occur regularly and in a predictable pattern over one hour
It’s a good idea to time your contractions. If you are unsure as to whether you should come into hospital or not, please 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.
If you arrive at hospital and you are in early labour we may advise you to return home. This is usually only with first labours, which may stop and start in the early phase. We will make a plan with you so you know when to contact us again and return.
What can I do in early labour to manage the pain?
- 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.
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?
We encourage you to bring your partner or another relative or friend to support you in labour. If you have a doula, they are also welcome to be present at your labour to support you.
About this page
- Last updated