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Labour + Birth

Information to help you understand the signs of labour and help you prepare for giving birth.
Am I in labour?

You may be in labour if you are having the following symptoms:

  • Contractions are at irregular intervals, for example, every 5 to 15 minutes.
  • Contraction length varies, for example, lasting 20 seconds to 90 seconds.
  • Although they may be painful, the strength of contractions remains the same or may lessen.
  • Contractions are often felt in the lower abdomen.
  • You may find that contractions are most uncomfortable when you are moving and lessen when you are resting. 
  • The cervix usually remains closed.
  • There is usually no “show” (blood-tinged mucus).
True labour 
  • Contractions occur at more regular intervals, for example, 5 to 10 minutes apart.
  • The length of contractions usually increases, for example, lasting 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Intensity of contractions gradually increases, becoming progressively more painful.
  • Contractions can be felt in the abdomen, across the lower back, and sometimes in the thighs 
  • Contractions do not decrease when you are resting, but continue regardless of what you are doing. 
  • The cervix thins and shortens (effaces) and opens (dilates).
  • There may be “show” and/or leaking from your bag of waters.

‎If think you are in labour, or if your water sac has broken, call your care provider to discuss your situation. Together you will decide when you should call them next, or when you should go to the hospital.

If you are not pre-registered at BC Women’s, please go to the closest hospital that delivers babies.

When to call your care provider immediately
  • You feel constant abdominal pain that does not go away
  • Your water sac is broken and you develop a fever (feel hot or shivery)
  • The fluid from your water sac is coloured yellow, green or red
  • You have bright red bleeding from your vagina
  • Your baby’s movements have slowed down (less than six movements in a two hour period) or stopped

If you have cannot reach your care provider, call 8-1-1 or come to the hospital.  

If you are concerned about yourself or your baby, come to the hospital immediately or call 9-1-1. 

Early labour is a normal part of the birth process 

When Labour Starts (ENG) (.pdf) is a quick reference for people in labour and their support people. This handout is also available in the following languages:

Coming to hospital

Coming to the Hospital

  • Before coming to the hospital, follow your care providers' instructions. If you are unable to reach your care provider call 8-1-1. 
  • If you are concerned about you or your baby, come to the hospital or call 9-1-1. 

  • What to bring to hospital (checklist)

  • When you arrive at BC Women's, enter through the Admitting Entrance, door #97. A nurse will greet you, ask you a few questions about your labour and check your and your baby's condition.
  • Depending on how your labour is progressing at that time:
    • You may go directly to a birthing room or a single room maternity care room, or
    • You may remain in the hotpital's Urgent Care Centre where your healthcare team will monitor your condition, or 
    • You may be sent home if you are in very early labour and it is better for you to be in your own home as your labour progresses.  We will give you clear instructions about when to return to the hospital. 
  • If you have questions, call your care provider or 8-1-1. 

Having your baby

If you need to have your labour induced your physician or midwife will talk to you about induction of labour.

If you need to give birth by caesarean, also called c-section, one support person may stay with you in the operating room if your doctors agree.

Please ask your family and friends to wait for your support person to call them with news about your labour and birth.

Families may use cameras in the labour and delivery room if they have the permission of all staff in the room. Video and audio recording is not allowed during caesarean, forcep, vacuum, breech births or during emergency procedures.

Pain relief methods help you to cope with your labour. These include breathing techniques, water therapy, body positioning, walking and massage, as well as medications (narcotics, nitrous oxide, epidurals). Your nurse will be with you to help guide you through these options.  

Pain relief medication is available at your request with a doctor's or midwife's orders, however not everyone needs it.  Your nurse is available to help you at each step if pain relief medication is needed. 
If an epidural is requested, anesthesiologists are available 24 hours a day to help you with your choice for relieving pain. 

You may wish to talk to an anesthesiologist in advance about your pain relief choices for labour, birth and/or caesarean birth. This can be arranged through the Anesthesia Clinic. Ask your doctor or midwife to arrange an appointment. 

Vaginal birth after caesarean birth

BC Women's supports you to have a vaginal birth after caesarean section (VBAC). If you have previously given birth by caesarean section, we encourage you to consider a trial of labour with your current pregnancy. You should discuss this option with your doctor or midwife.
  • Visit Types of birth for more information on VBAC
  • Use the My Next Birth decision-making tool to plan your next birth after caesarean

Caesarean birth

If you are having a planned caesarean birth, also called a c-section, your doctor will pre-book your surgery date. You will be admitted to the hospital under the Day of Surgery program, allowing you to come in on the date scheduled for your baby's birth.

Elective caesarean

If you are considering a planned caesarean section with no identified medical reason, please watch the following video:

Elective caesarean section

If you have further questions, please discuss your options with your care provider.

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