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FAQs about labour

We understand that labour can be a daunting time and you may have a lot of unanswered questions. The following FAQs have been written by the LabourPains Subcommittee of the OAA and are based on reliable evidence. 

While you are pregnant, you may feel your uterus (womb) tightening from time to time. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions. When you go into labour, this tightening feeling becomes regular and much stronger.

The tightening may cause pain that feels like period pain, and usually becomes more painful the further you get into labour. Different women experience labour pains in different ways, but usually, your first labour will be the longest.

If medication is used to start off (induce) labour or speed up your labour, your contractions may be more painful.

Most women use a range of ways to cope with labour pain. It is a good idea to have an open mind and be flexible.


  • Intrapartum care. Care of healthy women and their babies during childbirth. National Collaborating Centre for Women’s and Children’s Health. Commissioned by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. 2007 RCOG Press, London

Antenatal parenting classes help you prepare for the birth. These classes are run by midwives and by other organisations that support people in being parents and giving birth. The classes will help you understand what will happen in labour and may help you to feel less anxious.

At antenatal classes, the midwife will tell you what is available to reduce labour pain. If you need more information about epidurals (an injection into your back to numb the lower half of your body), the midwife can arrange for you to meet an anaesthetist to talk about this. If you cannot go to antenatal classes, you should still ask your midwife about what is available to help you manage the pain. You can then discuss this with the midwife who cares for you while you are in labour.

Where you choose to give birth can affect how painful it is. If you feel at ease in the place you give birth, you may be more relaxed and less anxious about labour. For some women, this means giving birth at home, but other women feel reassured by the support offered at a hospital or birth centre. Many hospitals try to make the labour rooms look homely and encourage you to play music you like to help you feel more relaxed.

If you are planning to give birth in a hospital or birth centre, it may be helpful to look round to find out what facilities they have.

Having a friend or birth partner with you while you are in labour can be helpful for you. It is important to talk to your birth partner about your concerns and what you want, and they can help you to focus during the birth.


  • Waldenstrom U, Nilsson CA. Experience of childbirth in birth center care. A randomised controlled study. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica 1994; 73: 547-554.

  • Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2003, Issue 3. Article number: CD003766. Date of issue: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.

Breathing calmly may increase the amount of oxygen that is supplied to your muscles, and so make the pain less intense. Also, focusing on your breathing can make you less aware of the contractions.

It can be difficult to relax when you are in pain, so it can be helpful to practise before you actually go into labour. There are a number of different ways you can learn to relax.

You may find that having a massage while you are in labour can be very comforting and reassuring.

Very few maternity units within the NHS offer complementary therapies, so you would need to find a qualified therapist before you go into labour. Some options you might consider are listed on our complementary therapies page.

Entonox, also known as gas and air, can help make labour more bearable. Read all about how it works and if it might be suitable for you on our gas and air page.