During your pregnancy, your midwife will discuss with you your options for labour and birth. 

Discussing a birth plan with your midwife gives you the chance to ask questions and find out more about what happens in labour. 

It also gives your midwife the chance to get to know you better and understand your feelings and priorities — this will form part of your personalised care and support plan. 

Be prepared to be flexible and to do things differently from your birth plan if complications arise. You can change your mind about your wishes for labour and birth at any time.

The information on this page outlines what you need to know if you go into labour naturally and what to expect if you need to have an induction of labour or you’re having a planned caesarean section. You’ll also find useful information about what to bring with you to the labour ward.

Everyone's labour is different, and how you’ll feel in early labour depends on whether you’ve had a baby before and how you perceive and cope with labour.

In early labour, also called the latent phase, you may feel:

  • Persistent lower back or abdominal pain, often accompanied by a cramp pain similar to when you have a period.
  • A show (a brownish or blood-tinged sticky, mucus discharge). Labour may not be imminent, but it is a sign things are moving along. You should carry on as normal.
  • Painful contractions that occur at regular and increasingly shorter intervals and become longer in duration and stronger in intensity.
  • Broken waters (continually leaking fluid from your vagina that you’re unable to control).

You’ve probably talked with your midwife about what to do when you think you’re in labour. If you’re not sure whether or not the time has come, don’t be embarrassed to call us. 

We often receive calls from women who are uncertain if they're in labour and need guidance.

When you call triage, we’ll listen to you and plan your care together. We’ll also want to know how close together your contractions are, how long they last and any other symptoms or concerns you may have, including how much your baby is moving.

If you're planning to have your baby in the hospital, we may ask you to come in so that we can assess your progress or suggest you remain at home if we think you’re still in early labour.

If, when you come in, you’re still in early labour, we may encourage you to go home again until you're in active labour. This is because there’s evidence to suggest that being at home is the best place to be during early labour — at home, you are calm and relaxed and therefore more likely to avoid unnecessary intervention.

You should contact us if:

  • your waters break, or if you suspect you're leaking amniotic fluid
  • your baby is moving less than usual
  • you have vaginal bleeding
  • you have fever, severe headaches, changes in your vision, or abdominal pain

•    you’re worried or concerned

If you’re having a planned caesarean section, you’ll be asked to attend the maternity day assessment unit or antenatal clinic two working days before the date of your caesarean, and you will be seen by a midwife, a doctor and an anaesthetist. 

They will assess you and your baby and complete all of the necessary checks to ensure you are prepared.

There will be time for any of your questions to be answered, so please do ask if you are not sure about something.

On the day of the procedure, at the Royal Free Hospital you’ll be asked to attend the maternity day assessment unit, and at Barnet Hospital you’ll be asked to report to triage. You’ll wait in the unit until it’s time for your caesarean section.

We run an enhanced recovery programme for patients having planned caesarean sections in order to improve the experience for mothers and reduce medical complications. 

The programme facilitates the early return of normal functions for those undergoing uncomplicated, planned caesarean sections.

The programme involves:

  • encouragement of early skin-to-skin contact
  • eating and drinking within two hours of your caesarean
  • getting out of bed and walking from six hours after your caesarean
  • removal of the urinary catheter once you are able to get out of bed
  • prioritising of postnatal baby checks

Most women feel ready to go home the day after their planned caesarean section and are allowed to do so if they wish. If you do go home early, there is additional community follow up available.

If you would like more information on the enhanced recovery programme, please speak to your midwife or another member of our team.

When preparing to come to the birth centre or delivery suite for the birth of your baby, please bring sufficient clothes and personal items for the period following the birth of your baby. This could be anything from six hours to two days. 

What to bring for you

  • your maternity notes
  • comfortable, loose clothing to wear while giving birth
  • night wear and slippers
  • comfortable, loose clothing to wear when you go home
  • toiletries
  • personal items which may include music, massage oils, a pillow, water spray, lip salve, phone charger, eye mask, a handheld fan
  • healthy snacks and isotonic drinks; a water bottle
  • breast pads and maternity pads; disposable underwear
  • support bra to wear while breastfeeding

What to bring for your baby

  • clothing (including vests, baby grows and hats)
  • nappies
  • cotton wool
  • baby blanket
  • car seat to go home in
  • snowsuit if the weather is cold