Labour ward: what happens at the hospital
Why you may want to give birth here
- Having access to a wide range of pain relief options, including epidurals, is important to you.
- You don't want to have to travel during labour if there are complications or you need a caesarean.
- You have a medical condition that means the birth may be complicated, eg pre-eclampsia or a breech baby.
- Knowing that doctors and medical equipment are nearby is important to you.
Why it might not be right for you
- Most labour wards don't have birth pools in every room, so you may not be able to use one.
- Statistically, you're more likely to have medical interventions, for example a c-section, if you're planning a birth in a labour ward.
- After your baby is born, your partner may be asked to leave the hospital overnight.
- You may stay one or more nights on a postnatal ward, which can be busy and less private than a birth centre.
What is a labour ward like?
You will have your own room to labour in with medical equipment such as CTG monitoring. There will be a bed which can often be adjusted for height so you can labour in different positions. Many labour rooms have birthing equipment such as birth balls, pools or mats available too.
Some labour wards also have “home-from-home” rooms for women at low risk of complications. These rooms are designed to make you feel more like you are at home.
There will be an operating theatre nearby in case you need a caesarean or assisted birth, and often there’s a neonatal unit on site if your baby needs extra help after the birth.
One advantage of the labour ward is that you have access to all different types of pain relief without having to transfer to a different setting.
Rossella, Beki and Reena share their experiences of giving birth in a labour ward, in the video below.
Who will look after me during labour?
You’ll be looked after by midwives just as you would at home or in a birth centre. Hospital midwives are usually experienced in births requiring interventions, such as induction of labour, careful monitoring of you and the baby during labour and the use of epidurals.
However, at the labour ward there are also specialist doctors on hand to help you and your baby if problems develop during labour, or if you have pre-existing conditions or risk factors that mean you need extra care.
Obstetricians are doctors who specialise in pregnancy and birth where there are complications, for example if you need to have a c-section or assisted birth.
Anaesthetists are responsible for setting up epidurals and giving anaesthetics for caesarean sections or assisted births.
Neonatologists specialise in looking after newborn babies who need extra care.
Will I get to know my midwives?
You’re unlikely to know the midwives who look after you during labour, but this will vary between different maternity units in different hospitals.
Some maternity units offer team midwifery, where you receive your care from a team of midwives whom you get to know throughout your pregnancy, or caseloading, where a single midwife (or a pair of midwives) has full responsibility for your care throughout pregnancy, labour and after your baby is born. Both options give you continuity of care, allowing you to get to know your midwives before the birth.
You can ask your midwife about the availability of this option if you’re interested in this type of care.
What happens after I give birth?
You’ll stay in the delivery room or a separate recovery room for a couple of hours after a vaginal birth or c-section, to make sure you and your baby are both doing well and feeding gets off to a good start.
If your birth was uncomplicated, you can usually go home within a few hours of the birth.
If you had a more complicated birth, for example a c-section or assisted delivery, you’ll be transferred to the postnatal ward instead. This is usually in the same part of the hospital as the labour ward, so it’s likely to be a smooth transition for you and your baby.
Is it safe for me to give birth in a labour ward?
If you’re at increased risk of complications you’re likely to be recommended to give birth in a labour ward, where doctors and medical equipment will be available if you need it.
Women at low risk of complications are more likely to need medical help, such as a caesarean section, if they plan to give birth in a labour ward compared to other birth environments.
Therefore, if you’re having a straightforward pregnancy and keen to avoid medical interventions, a birth centre might be a good option for you. It is just as safe for your baby as planning to give birth in a labour ward.