It’s natural to feel anxious you may leave it too late, but if you turn up early you might be turned away. Don't stress - here's what you need to do
Stay at home and try to relax during the ‘latent’ stage of labour, which is when your womb starts to contract, causing persistent lower abdominal or back pain. You might have what’s known as a ‘show’, when the mucus plug comes away from its position inside the cervix, where it’s been protecting your baby from germs – you’ll find a pinkish blob in your underwear, or it may come away gradually. It’s normal for a small amount of blood to be mixed in, but phone your midwife if there’s more.
Call your midwife if your waters break. For most women, this happens later, during labour, but if they break beforehand, ring the maternity unit: your midwife will ask you to describe the fluid. It should be straw-coloured and sweet-smelling; if it’s green, it means your baby has emptied her bowels and you’ll need to go to hospital to check for infection. Otherwise, stay at home and wait for labour to begin.
Time your contractions once they start. During stage one of labour your cervix will dilate, on average, by 1cm an hour, but it tends to take longer going from 2cm to 5cm than from 6cm to the fully dilated 10cm. It’s a good idea to keep moving around, and try a warm bath, which may help ease pain.
Go to the maternity unit when your contractions are about five minutes apart and lasting one minute each. If you have any concerns before you get to this stage, always call your midwife to find out whether you should go in earlier. ‘Ring the unit before you set off so that they know to expect you,’ says Elizabeth. ‘And that way, if they’re full, they can direct you elsewhere before you leave.’