Going into labour is exciting but it can also be nerve-racking, so it makes sense to be prepared well in advance.

It is important for you to know the signs of labour and to be prepared. Knowing all about the stages of labour and what to expect will also help put your mind at rest.

Read more about the signs and stages of labour

When do I come into hospital?

If it's your first pregnancy, you may feel unsure about when you should go into hospital or a midwife-led unit. The best thing to do is to call your delivery unit or birth centre for advice. Find contact telephone numbers

  • If your waters have broken, you'll probably be told to go in to be checked
  • If it is your first baby and you are having contractions but your waters have not broken, you may be told to wait
  • You will probably be told to come in when your contractions are regular, strong, about five minutes apart and lasting about 60 seconds. If you don't live near your hospital you may need to come in before you get to this stage.
  • Second babies (and third, fourth and so on) often arrive more quickly than the first, so you may need to contact the hospital, midwife-led unit or your midwife sooner.

Don’t forget to phone the hospital or unit before leaving home and remember your notes.

If you are planning a home delivery, follow the procedure you have agreed with your midwife during your discussions about the onset of labour.

Pain relief

Labour is a natural, but painful experience, so it’s important to learn about all the ways you can relieve and cope with the pain and how your partner or labour supporter can help you.

Write down your wishes in your birth plan, but remember you may need to be flexible. You may find that you want more pain relief than you had planned and more effective pain relief may be advised to assist with delivery.

Your midwife will be able to tell you more about the pain relief options available at our Birth Units.

For a more general overview of the standard types of pain relief available, please visit the NHS Choices website.


We were among the first in the country to use aromatherapy techniques to help women before, during and after labour. This is available at all of our birth facilities.

Your midwife will be able to tell you more about this unique service, but for more information read the Use of Essential Oils and Massage to help with your labour patient leaflet.

Premature babies

If you have any reason to think that your labour may be starting early, get in touch with the Delivery Suite at once so that arrangements can be made.

Some babies need special care in hospital, sometimes on the ordinary postnatal ward, and on occasion in a neonatal unit (NNU), also known as a Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). All of these services are provided in our Women's Centre at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. Babies who may need special care include:

  • Babies who are born earlier than 34 weeks may need help breathing, feeding and keeping warm, and the earlier they are born, the more help they are likely to need.
  • Babies who are very small or who have life-threatening conditions, usually affecting their breathing, heart and circulation.
  • Babies born to diabetic mothers, or babies where the delivery has been very difficult, may need to be kept under close observation for a time.
  • Babies with very marked jaundice.

Contact telephone number: Neo-natal Unit: 0300 422 5529

Parents and professionals can access more information here at the website for the South West Neonatal Network

Advice and support for partners

Whoever you are – the baby’s father, a close friend, or a relative – there are quite a few practical things that you can do to help during labour, although probably none of them are as important as just being there. You can’t know in advance what your labour is going to be like or how each of you will cope, but there are many ways in which someone can help. You can also provide support before the labour stage for example, by helping to pack the hospital bag, ensuring that you have enough change for parking and vending machines. You might also want to think about what to bring for yourself such as food, drinks and light clothing as labour rooms are often warm.

You can:

  • Keep your partner company and help pass the time in the early stages.
  • Hold her hand, wipe her face, give her sips of water, massage her back and shoulders, help her move about or change position, or anything else that helps.
  • Comfort her as her labour progresses and her contractions get stronger.
  • Remind her how to use relaxation and breathing techniques, perhaps breathing with you if it helps.
  • Support her decisions about, for example, pain relief.
  • Help her make it clear to the midwife or doctor what she needs – and the other way round – which can help you feel much more in control of the situation.
  • As the baby is being born, tell her what is happening, because she can’t see for herself what is going on.

For very many couples, being together during labour and welcoming their baby together is an experience that they can’t begin to put into words. And many fathers who have seen their baby being born and who have played a part themselves say they feel much closer to the child from the very start.

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