Information for the public

Care during labour

You should be offered one‑to‑one care and support throughout labour, and you shouldn't be left on your own unless you want to be.

You can play your choice of music in the birth room, and make the room comfortable to suit you. Healthcare professionals should knock and wait before coming into the room, and respect it as your personal space.

You will be able to drink during labour when you want to. You may also want to eat a light snack if you are hungry. But if you have had an opioid drug for pain relief, or there is a chance you might need a general anaesthetic, you will be advised not to eat.

You should be encouraged and helped to move around and change position to find the most comfortable one for you.

Early checks

Once your labour has started, your midwife should ask you questions and do some checks, including:

  • talking with you about how you are feeling, your birth plan if you have one and how your pregnancy has gone

  • asking about your contractions: how long they last, how strong they are and how often they happen

  • asking about your baby's movements in the last 24 hours

  • asking about pain, and discussing your options for pain relief

  • asking whether your waters have broken or you have had any vaginal bleeding

  • measuring your pulse, blood pressure and temperature, and testing a sample of your urine

  • checking your baby's position

  • listening to your baby's heartbeat (see also below).

If these early checks suggest possible problems for you or your baby, and you are at home or in a midwife-led unit, your midwife will advise that you are moved to an obstetric unit to have your baby. This is so that extra care is available if needed (see what If I need to be transferred to an obstetric unit during labour?).

Vaginal examinations

Your midwife will offer vaginal examinations during labour. These are done to check how far your cervix (neck of the womb) has opened (dilated) and the position of your baby's head. The midwife should always explain why an examination is being advised and what it will involve. It should only be carried out with your agreement.

You may be offered a vaginal examination during the early checks, especially if the midwife thinks you are in established labour. But this is not always necessary, and your own wishes should be taken into account.

Your midwife should explain to you and your birth companion(s) what the examinations show.

Listening to your baby's heartbeat

Your midwife will listen to your baby's heartbeat using a hand‑held device. This is done as part of the early checks and then regularly during labour.

You should be advised to have electronic monitoring (which involves being attached to a monitor that continuously monitors your baby's heartbeat and your contractions) if there is concern about you or your baby, or if you are having an epidural (see if electronic monitoring is needed). The reasons for advising electronic monitoring, and the advantages and disadvantages, should be explained to you.

If you have electronic monitoring you will need to be transferred to an obstetric unit if you are not already there.

If you have electronic monitoring because of possible concerns about your baby's heartbeat but it is found to be normal, the monitor should be taken off after 20 minutes (unless you ask to keep it on).

There is no strong evidence that electronic monitoring either decreases or increases the likelihood of problems for healthy women having a normal labour and their babies.

You can ask for electronic monitoring even if there are no concerns about you or your baby. If you do this, your midwife should explain the advantages and disadvantages.

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