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Going to hospital or birthing centre

7-minute read

How do I prepare to go hospital or birth centre?

It can be hard to know when is the right time to go to the hospital or birth centre when having a baby. If you’re booked for an induction or caesarean birth, then the certainty around timing will be easier.

You should be prepared with what you need to take and how you will get to the hospital or birth centre.

It’s also a good idea to have a birth plan, so you have a written record of what you would like to happen when you are having your baby.

What do I need to take to the hospital or birthing centre?

Make sure you have your bag packed with what you and your baby are going to need. You may want to take your own pillow. Pack toiletries and (maternity) sanitary pads.

Check with the hospital or birth centre what they recommend to bring.


Pack the essential paperwork including your Medicare card, insurance details, birth plan and hospital paperwork. Leave anything precious like jewellery or money at home. A small amount of cash could be useful.

For you

You will need some clothes for going home, maternity bras, sleepwear and warm jumper. You may want to take your own pillow. Pack toiletries and (maternity) sanitary pads.

For your baby

For your baby, you will need nappies (allow for 8 to 10 nappies per day), a blanket and some wraps, nappy wipes, clothing and going home clothes.

What to take to hospital - checklist

Checklist for everything you might need to take to the hospital or birth centre.

Getting to the hospital or birth centre

Plan for your trip and ideally, have a ‘practice’ run when you’re in your third trimester. Be clear where you can park. It’s often useful for expectant parents and birth support partners to also have a tour of the maternity hospital or birth centre to know what to expect. Every health facility is different and all have their own policies.

Labour often starts unexpectedly and it will help you to feel organised if you’ve got a plan for transport and to know where you are going.

  • Speak with your partner about the route you will take and if this will need to change depending on traffic and the time of day. Plan not to drive yourself. If you’re in labour you’ll be concentrating on other things.
  • Keep your car topped up with fuel.
  • Make an alternative plan for transport if needed.
  • Fit the baby car seat and follow all the manufacturer’s recommendations on safe installation. Practice so you know how it works.

What are the early signs of labour?

Early signs of labour can be subtle and start very slowly. As labour advances, these signs become clearer and most women aren’t in too much doubt that their baby is coming.

Common signs of early labour include:

  • contractions — they might start mild and short, and can stop and start over a few days
  • waters breaking — another name for this is ruptured membranes
  • a ‘show’ — a mucousy, blood-stained discharge which is a sign that the cervix is starting to dilate
  • backache or an upset stomach — you might feel nauseous and need to go to the toilet to poo more frequently
  • a feeling of pressure as the baby’s head (or bottom if breech) moves into the pelvis
  • cramping which is similar to period pain

When is it time to go to the hospital or birth centre?

Be guided by your maternity care provider about what will be the right time for you and your baby. Every woman and her pregnancy are unique and it’s important for you to feel you are being well supported.

It’s a good idea to ring the hospital to let them know you’re on your way. Even if you feel you’re managing well, it will help with planning and staffing if they know you’re coming.

You should go to hospital or the birth centre if you are:

  • having contractions before 37 weeks of pregnancy
  • having regular contractions — at least 3 contractions in 10 minutes for your first labour, they are getting stronger and they are taking more of your focus as you need to concentrate more
  • your waters break or you think they may have broken
  • you have vaginal bleeding which is different to a mucousy ‘show’
  • you have a fever
  • there are any changes to your baby’s pattern of movement
  • you have pain that doesn’t go away — contractions come and go with a rest in-between
  • you want advice, to be reassured or you need pain relief
  • you feel something is wrong — this feeling doesn’t need to be based on anything specific, always follow your ‘gut’ feelings

Be mindful of how long it will take to get to the hospital and the time of day. Sitting in your car and not being able to move around is a factor if you need to travel some distance. Allow for traffic and peak hours.

It’s difficult to say how long your labour will be. Many women find that their first baby is often the longest. If you have had a baby before then you can expect that this labour to be quicker and may help you to plan when to go to hospital.

If you’re in early labour and have been checked at the hospital, you may be advised to go home for a while. Try not to be disappointed and accept that this is a common practice in the early stages of labour which can often be long and tiring.

When should I call the hospital or maternity care provider?

You can ring for support and guidance any time you feel concerned or worried. Keep the contact numbers in your phone and make sure your partner or birth support partner has them as well. If you are in early labour and are managing well, it could help to get some reassurance around your plan for when to go to hospital and how to stay comfortable.

What are the signs I’m ready to have my baby?

Labour has three stages which can be a little different for every woman. Expect to be examined to check your stage of labour but remember, you are working in partnership with your maternity care provider and need to consent to any examination.

The first stage

Is when contractions increase, becoming more frequent and intense. The first stage of labour is usually the longest stage of labour as the cervix dilates and thins.

The second stage

Starts when the cervix is ten centimetres dilated and ends when the baby is born. The second stage of labour is often the hardest stage.

The third stage

Is after the baby is born and the placenta is delivered. During the third stage of labour, you may be asked to gently push as the placenta detaches from the wall of your uterus and is delivered.

Other tips for going to hospital

  • Plan your older children’s care for when you go to hospital. Have a few stand-by alternatives if needed.
  • If you have pets, it will help to arrange someone to help with their care in your absence.
  • Pack a gift from the new baby to their older sibling. This can help with the transition to being a 'big brother' or 'big sister'.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022

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