Planning how you’ll get to the maternity unit during labour – from the route you’ll take to where to find parking – is one part of giving birth you can be prepared for.
For both the mum-to-be and their birth partner, there are a surprising number of things to keep track of when labour starts – and that’s before you even get to the birth centre or labour ward.
Read our top tips on how to plan the logistics of getting to your chosen maternity unit, so the arrival of your baby can go as smoothly as possible.
What should I do if I think I’m in labour?
When you notice the first signs of labour, the best thing to do is stay at home and time your contractions. This is also a good time to contact your birth partner if they don’t live with you, so that they’re ready to come with you to the maternity unit.
Once you think you’re in active labour, you or your birth partner should phone the number for the birth centre or labour ward where you’re planning to give birth. You probably have this number written at the front of your maternity notes, but otherwise you can look up the contact details for your local hospital or birth centre.
Some maternity units may send a midwife to see you at home before you come in, but in most cases they’ll speak to you over the phone to check that:
- you’re at the right stage of labour to come in
- the labour ward or birth centre is open and has room for you.
If you’re having a home birth, now’s the time to contact your midwife to let them know that your labour’s starting so they can come to support you.
‘We phoned the midwives a few times, and after about three hours of very painful contractions we went to the birth centre. When I got in, the woman who met us said: “Oh, you must be Catherine, I recognise your screaming from the phone!”’ Read Cat’s birth story
Going to the hospital or birth centre by car
Working out how to get to the maternity unit and where to park in advance can be the difference between a (relatively) calm car journey and a panicked one on the day when your baby decides to make an appearance.
Planning your route and journey time
Make sure you know the best way to drive to the birth centre or labour ward and how long the journey will take. You can even do a few test drives if you live far away or in an area with a lot of congestion, so you know how long to allow at different times of day or night.
Having a back-up route can also be a good idea, just in case there are roadworks or other traffic problems on the day.
‘My first labour was very fast and my main fear with the second was that we wouldn’t make it to the birth centre if labour was even quicker this time. So we put towels in the car and my husband was prepared in case he had to help me deliver the baby while we were stuck in traffic.’ Read Fiona’s birth story
Labour wards and birth centres sometimes have to close temporarily, for example if they’re at full capacity. You can look up your chosen maternity unit to see how many times they’ve had to shut in the past year. For complete reassurance, you may also want to check the location of other labour wards and birth centres near you, so you’re not stumped on the day if you can’t go to your first choice.
Drop-off and parking
Many large hospitals have a dedicated entrance for the maternity unit, so it can be a good idea to visit in advance to make sure you’re going to the right part of the hospital and won’t have to traipse down endless corridors to get there.
A lot of maternity units arrange tours where you can check out the delivery rooms and talk to midwives who work there. Use our visiting your local maternity unit checklist to make the most of the tour.
Another thing to bear in mind is where you’re going to park, whether there are any special arrangements for cars arriving with a woman in labour, and whether there’s a parking charge and how to pay it.
Use our Birth Choice tool to visit the page dedicated to your local unit to find out about car parking and other useful facilities on site, like vending machines and cafes.
Birth partner’s checklist for the journey
Make sure you have the items on this list ready in advance – preferably a month before the due date as babies can arrive at unexpected times – so you’re as prepared as possible for the big day.
- Keep the car topped up with petrol or diesel at all times.
- Have the route worked out, preferably with a printed map and address details in case of wi-fi problems on the way.
- Know where the entrance to the labour ward or birth centre is so you can drop off the mum-to-be as close to it as possible.
- Be aware of the parking arrangements on site, and bring change for the parking machine if necessary.
- Know where the mum’s hospital bag is so you can put it in the car, and remember to bring a bag of essentials for yourself as well.
- Know where maternity notes and the birth plan are kept so you can bring those – they’re essential during labour.
- Make sure your phone is charged, you never know if you’ll need to make a call when you’re en route or at the maternity unit.
- Put some towels and water in the car, just in case you get stuck in traffic or labour progresses a lot faster than expected.
- Have a car seat for the baby in the car, and try setting it up in advance so you know how it works when it’s time to bring the baby home.
Download this checklist to keep on your phone as the due date approaches.
Can I get a taxi when I’m in labour?
Most women go to the hospital or birth centre by car, but if you don’t have access to one and there’s nobody nearby who can drive you, you should be able to take a taxi if you’re in the early stages of labour.
Taxi companies (and drivers) can vary in how accommodating they are to women in labour, so you may want to call up some local companies in advance and find out about their policies. You can also ask your midwife or maternity unit if they have a taxi company that they recommend.
On the day, have your birth partner talk to the taxi driver, including working out the route if necessary and arranging payment, and bring some folded towels to sit on in case your waters break.
One good thing about going in a taxi as opposed to in your own car is that your partner can sit next to you and support you during the journey, rather than focusing on driving.
What if I don’t have enough time to get to a maternity unit?
If you think your labour is progressing really quickly and you’re about to give birth at home unexpectedly, you should call your nearest maternity unit or an ambulance immediately.
The maternity unit may be able to send out home birth midwives if you’re happy to give birth at home and it’s safe for you to do so. Otherwise, they’ll send an ambulance to help you.
In the case where neither an ambulance nor midwives can make it to you before the baby is born, the midwives in the maternity unit can guide you or your birth partner over the phone until help arrives.
Should I call an ambulance when I’m in labour?
Using an ambulance to get to your planned place of birth isn’t usually necessary. However, there are situations where you need emergency care in labour and it wouldn’t be safe for you to travel to the nearest hospital or birth centre by car or taxi.
For example, if you’re at home and start bleeding heavily or have a cord prolapse, it’s really important that you lay down and keep as still as possible until the emergency services can get to you.
It can be comforting to know that all paramedics are trained in delivering babies and are best placed to help you through labour if it’s not safe for you to travel on your own.
If you’re not sure whether you should call an ambulance, you can always contact your nearest maternity unit for advice. They can arrange for an ambulance to be sent to you if necessary, and give you advice on what to do until the paramedics arrive.
More from Which?
- Top 10 baby car seats 2019: See which car seats topped our tests for ease of use, installation and comfort.
- Money-saving driving tips: Being a parent can be expensive – make sure you’re not spending more than necessary on fuel.
- Guide to antenatal classes: Find out what topics will be covered and how to find classes local to you.