Preparing for labour
Although the labour process can start at any stage during your pregnancy, in most cases it does not start until the 37th week at the earliest, three weeks before the due date.
Guidance for pregnant women and information on what is happening in your regional unit during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can be found at Northern Ireland maternity and parenting.
As your delivery date approaches, it is very important to be prepared for labour, as it can happen at any time. Make sure you know how you will get to the hospital and have a bag packed with everything you will need, as you won’t know how long the labour process will be.
You should get a few things ready at least four weeks before your due date.
Wherever you are having your baby, your midwife can help you decide what you will need to pack.
You may want to include the following:
- something old, loose and comfortable to wear during labour
- three changes of clothes
- three comfortable, supportive bras, including nursing bras if you are planning to breastfeed – remember your breasts will be much larger than usual
- about 24 super-absorbent sanitary towels (also known as maternity sanitary pads)
- 24 breast pads
- a wash bag with toothbrush, hairbrush, flannel, lip balm and other toiletries
- fruit juices and boiled sweets to give you energy in labour
- towels, preferably not white
- things that can help you pass the time and relax – for example, books, magazines, mp3 player
- a sponge or water spray to cool you down
- front-opening nightdresses or pyjamas of you are going to breastfeed
- light dressing gown and slippers
- five or six pairs of old underwear
- a loose, comfortable outfit to come home in
- clothes, including a hat, and 24 nappies for the baby
- a shawl or blanket to wrap the baby in
- car seat for taking your baby home
- your green maternity hand held recorder (MHHR) with birth preferences completed
- any other letters or test results
It is likely that the hospital will be able to provide some or all of these, but you will probably feel more comfortable taking your own things.
The list above is not necessarily complete, have a think about anything else you might need.
Work or how you will get to hospital or the hospital or midwifery unit, as it could be at any time of the day or night. If you are planning on going by car, make sure that it is running well and there is always enough petrol in the tank.
If a neighbour has said they will take you, make a back-up plan in case they are not in. If you do not have a car, you could call a taxi, but need to do so in good time. Check which entrance to the hospital or midwifery unit you should use if you arrive at night.
Keep a list of important numbers in your handbag or near your phone. You will need to include the following;
- your hospital and midwife’s numbers
- your partner and birth partner
- your own hospital reference number – this will be on your card or notes and you will be asked for it when you phone in
- a local taxi number, in case you need it
How you will know you are in labour
The labour process is different for everyone, but once it starts, one or more of the following things will happen:
- contractions start occurring regularly, with increasingly shorter intervals between each one
- the contractions become increasingly longer and stronger
- your waters will break (although this is only a sign of labour starting if it is accompanied by contractions)
- you may feel cramps, much like period pains, and pains in the lower back
- you may notice some vaginal discharge of a brown or pink colour (this is known as ‘the show’)
If you are not sure if labour has started or not, call your doctor or midwife and they will be able to tell you.
If you are overdue
If your pregnancy lasts more than 40 weeks, you will be offered an induction between 41 and 42 weeks (seven to 14 days after your due date).
Labour can be induced if your baby is overdue or there is any sort of risk to you or your baby’s health – for example, if you have high blood pressure or if your baby is failing to grow and thrive.
Induction is always planned ahead of time, so you will be able to talk over the benefits and disadvantages with your doctor and midwife and find out why they recommend your labour be induced.