The first thing you’ll see when you walk into the labour ward is a reception desk where a receptionist will greet you and ask for your antenatal notes, so make sure you remember to bring them with you. It’s always a good idea to ring before you turn up, as it helps the midwife in charge of the labour ward plan ahead. You’ll be allocated a midwife from the team on duty to look after you and then shown to a room to get comfortable.
Independent midwives are a common choice for those hoping for a home birth.
Meeting your midwife
The midwife assigned to your care will want to get to know a bit about you. Depending on how strong and frequently your contractions are coming, she might need to do this pretty speedily! She’ll read through your antenatal notes as it’s important to quickly establish if there have previously been any concerns and then she’ll take a history from you. She’ll want to know things like your due date, when your contractions started, how frequent the contractions are, and if your waters have broken. This is your opportunity to show her your birth plan and talk through any particular requests you might have.
Once you’re settled into the labour ward and have had that initial chat, the midwife needs to do some basic medical checks to establish that there are no concerns over you and your baby. You’ll be asked if she can take your blood pressure and test your urine, in just the same way as your midwife has been doing at your antenatal appointments over the last few months. She’ll also take your temperature and pulse and, assuming that you’re at least 37 weeks, she’ll ask if she can do a vaginal examination as well.
Your vaginal examination gives the midwife lots of essential information; from the position of the baby to how low down in the pelvis he is. It may also be encouraging to hear what progress you’re making. Being told how far your cervix is dilated, for example, can reassure you the contractions aren’t in vain. Usually the midwife will ask you to sit semi-upright on the bed, bend your knees and let them flop open. Assuming that your contractions are strong, regular and your cervix is at least 4cm dilated, she’ll confirm that you’re in labour.
To be honest, you’ll probably know that you’re in labour by how you’re feeling but the examination will give you a ‘baseline’ and might even help you make a decision about pain relief depending on what stage of labour you’re at.
Feeling your bump
Next the midwife will do some external checks to see how your baby’s lying in the womb. She’ll feel your bump and measure from the top of the bump to your pubic bone to give her an idea of the size of your baby and how he’s lying (for example, head down or back to back). If you’re considered low risk, she’ll listen to your baby’s heartbeat using either a pinard (a bit like an ear trumpet) or a hand-held ultrasound machine so that you can hear it too.