As you get into the last months and weeks of pregnancy, it’s natural to start thinking about giving birth. It’s exciting – but perhaps a little scary too. It can help to know what to expect in labour and birth, and to plan ahead as much as you can.

Giving birth

A vaginal birth is usually the safest way for your baby to be born. But sometimes health problems for you or your baby might make a caesarean the safest option for giving birth.

Even if you’re planning a vaginal birth, it’s good to find out about giving birth via caesarean. You might need a planned caesarean for medical reasons like placenta praevia. Unplanned (emergency) caesareans can happen when there are problems in pregnancy or during labour.

Our article on vaginal birth and caesarean birth can help you compare the two types of birth. And it’s worth knowing that women who’ve had a caesarean birth are usually physically able to try a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) next time around.

If you’re wondering about your options for giving birth, it’s good to talk with your midwife or doctor about your health, your baby’s health and what might be best for you.

Birth classes

Birth, antenatal or prenatal classes help you and your partner get ready for labour, giving birth, breastfeeding and early parenting.

At birth classes you can ask questions and get specific information about the place where your baby will be born.

You can also do private classes on active birth, hypnobirth, calm birth and so on. If you’re interested, you can look them up online to see whether they’re offered in your area, or ask your doctor or midwife for more information.

Knowing that your birth partner is well prepared for labour and birth can help you feel more confident when the time comes. In our Dads Guide, there’s more to read about how to get ready for a birth support role and what to expect in the first few hours after the birth.

Birth plans

Birth plans can cover as many aspects of giving birth as you like. Your birth plan could include:

  • who you’d like to be at the birth
  • how you want to manage pain
  • who’ll cut the cord
  • how you’d like your birth environment to be.

Keep in mind that your baby’s plan might be different from yours. Also, what you need and want might change on the day, so think of the birth plan as a guide and stay flexible.

It’s a good idea to share your birth plan with the midwife or doctor who’ll be looking after you, so they understand your preferences and can work with you to achieve them.

Some women want only women health professionals to care for them during labour and birth. You can ask for a female midwife or doctor, but it might not be possible to have one – especially if you or your baby need urgent or specialised medical attention.

Getting ready for labour and birth: practical tips

Packing your bag
If you’re giving birth in a hospital or birth centre, you’ll need to pack a hospital bag. Consider packing your bag at about 32 weeks so you’re ready if labour happens early.

Essentials include:

  • hospital admission forms
  • some things for labour – old, oversized t-shirts, extra undies, warm socks and lip balm
  • maternity sanitary pads
  • pyjamas
  • some basics for baby – singlets, socks, tops and bottoms, one-piece suits, and large cotton or muslin wraps.

Easy-open tops for breastfeeding, along with a maternity bra and breast pads, are also a good idea.

Getting to the hospital or birth centre
You’ll need to get yourself to the hospital or birth centre to have your baby, unless you’ve planned a homebirth. It’s a good idea to plan:

  • how you’re going to get there – for example, by car or taxi
  • which way you’ll go – your route
  • where you’ll park, how much parking will cost, and whether there’s enough petrol in the car
  • which entrance to go to – especially at night, because it might be different from the daytime entrance
  • who’ll look after your other children, if you have any
  • how you’ll get baby home – if you’re travelling by car, you’ll need a properly fitted, rear-facing car restraint.

If your labour is happening fast or you’re concerned about your health or your baby’s, call an ambulance by dialling 000.

Planning for when you get home
It’s good to plan practical and emotional ‘back-up’ for after your baby is born. For example, could extended family, friends or other people cook you a meal, drop in for a visit or give you a call? You don’t have to do everything if others are willing to lend a hand.

If you have time in the weeks before the birth, it’s also a good idea to stock your freezer with nutritious meals. In the early weeks with your baby, these meals might be handy when you need a healthy dinner in a hurry.

Your due date

A baby born at 38 weeks is considered full term. A premature baby is one born before this. If you’re worried that you might be in labour but you’re not yet due to have your baby, call your midwife, doctor or hospital as soon as possible.

If you’ve reached your due date and haven’t gone into labour yet, don’t worry. Very few babies are born on their actual due dates. 

If you haven’t had your baby by 41 weeks, you’ll have more frequent checks to make sure your baby is healthy. Your doctor or midwife will talk about options for when your baby is overdue.

Labour signs

Here are some signs that labour might start soon:

  • a ‘show’ – when the mucus plug that has been sealing your cervix comes away
  • your waters breaking – this could be a slow leak or a big gush. Phone the hospital or let your obstetrician or midwife know
  • more pressure as baby’s head shifts lower in your uterus and into the pelvis
  • more Braxton Hicks contractions 
  • cramping in your lower pelvis, a bit like period pain.

You’ll know you’re in labour when you feel contractions that last for a minute each, coming at regular intervals (about five minutes apart).

Birth Choices lets you compare options for labour pain management, the birth environment, support people, services and visitors.

Support before and after birth

If you have extra medical, cultural, social or emotional needs, you might see some other people, like social workers, cultural workers, Aboriginal liaison officers (ALOs) and lactation consultants, as well as midwives and doctors. They can organise support and services for you.

You can read more about getting support.

And the Raising Children Network website is full of reliable, practical information about caring for yourself and your baby. You could start by checking out our Newborns section.

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Last updated or reviewed
07-04-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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