Hospital Birth: What to Expect During Labor

What to Expect at the Hospital During Childbirth

April 19, 2019

What to Expect at the Hospital During Childbirth

What to Expect at the Hospital During Childbirth

If you’re planning on a hospital birth, you’re in good company: over 98 percent of births in the U.S. happen in hospitals. Though every birth is different, it helps to know what to expect before it’s time to check in to the hospital.

Taking a Hospital Tour

Schedule a tour of the hospital where you plan to give birth a month or two in advance of your due date—most hospitals recommend you tour the facilities at around 32 weeks.

On the tour, a guide will show you where to park, where to check in and what the delivery rooms look like. They’ll also go over labor and delivery options available to you, and show you the recovery rooms. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and if you have a birth plan, bring it with you (also remember to bring a copy when you check in to the hospital).

Checking into the Hospital for Birth

Chances are you’ll be in labor when you arrive at the hospital, though not if you have a scheduled induction or c-section. Luckily, hospital staff members are prepared for this, and the check-in process is usually quick. They’ll ask you for your name and insurance information, and they might also need your license plate number if the labor and delivery wing has a special parking lot.

Once you’re checked in, the nurse at the front desk will put a wristband on you and another nurse will escort you to a triage room (or to a labor and delivery room, if you have a scheduled delivery).

The Triage Room

If you’re in labor when you arrive at the hospital, your next stop after you check in will a labor and delivery triage room. A nurse will connect a fetal monitor to your belly to check your baby’s heart rate. They will also monitor your contractions to see how far apart they are and check your cervix to see how dilated you are.

If your contractions are five minutes apart and one minute long for at least one hour, and your cervix is dilated three centimeters or more, you’ll most likely be admitted. But if labor is progressing slowly, you may be sent home at this point. Don’t worry—you’ll be back soon enough!

The Labor and Delivery Room

The labor and delivery room is where you’ll spend most of your time while in labor at the hospital. Depending on your birth plan and the options available to you, you might bounce on a yoga ball, take a shower or labor in a special tub as your contractions get closer together.

A nurse will monitor your labor and your baby’s heart rate, either once per hour or continuously. If you get an epidural, an anesthesiologist will go through that process with you and administer the epidural in the room.

Most hospitals allow you to have partners, midwives, doulas or family members in the room with you while you’re in labor if you choose, but they usually have a limit. Ask about this during your tour and keep the number in mind as you write your birth plan.

And your family won’t be the only ones in the room with you—during your labor, you might encounter multiple labor and delivery nurses. They change shifts every eight to 12 hours, so the nurses you meet when you arrive might be different than the ones there when you give birth in the hospital.

What Happens in the Delivery Room

When the time comes, you’ll most likely give birth in the labor and delivery room (unless you have a c-section, in which case you’ll be moved to an operating room).

As you dilate to 10 centimeters and start to push, an OBGYN will join the labor and delivery nurses in the room to assist in the hospital delivery. This may or may not be the practitioner you’ve been seeing throughout your pregnancy, but rest assured that is totally normal.

If you’d like, ask your doctor or midwife about the other OBGYNs who work at the hospital beforehand. You may be able to meet them ahead of your delivery, which can help you feel more comfortable when the time comes.

What Happens After You Give Birth

You did it! After the birth, a doctor or nurse may place your baby on your chest for some rest and bonding time. Then they’ll weigh and measure your baby, take some footprints and run some routine tests, such as a Vitamin K injection or eye ointment application (your doctor will go over these with you in advance).

They’ll also perform the APGAR score at one and five minutes after baby is born to assess how they tolerated the birth and then how they’re adapting to the world.

Here’s what is looked at:

  • Appearance (skin color)
  • Pulse (heart rate)
  • Grimace (reflex irritability)
  • Activity (muscle tone)
  • Respiration (breathing effort)

Each one is scored on a scale of 0 to 2, with 2 being the best score.

APGAR Score
Score 0 1 2
Appearance Entire body is blueish Body good color; hands/feet blueish Good color
Pulse None Fewer than 100 beats/minute More than 100 beats/minute
Grimace No reaction Grimace Cough and sneeze or cry when pinched
Activity Limp Some flexing of arms and legs Active motion
Respiration No cry Weak or irregular cry Strong cry

After you deliver the placenta (this is typically known as the third stage of labor), you will also be monitored to make sure your blood pressure is steady and there aren’t any labor and delivery complications. If you experienced any tearing during delivery, a doctor will stitch you up.

This recovery time in the labor and delivery room at the hospital varies depending on the birth, but it will probably be a couple of hours. Friends and family can visit you in this room (and meet your new baby!) as well, if you’d like.

What Happens in the Recovery Room

Once the nurses and doctor are sure that you and your baby are doing well and have had some time to rest, they’ll move you to a recovery room. This is where you’ll spend the next night or two (how long you spend in the hospital depends on your hospital and your birth). Nurses will come and check on you every few hours, refilling your water and making sure you have plenty of ice. A nurse will also help you use the bathroom for the first time after birth, especially if you had an epidural.

Your partner can stay in the room with you, usually on a cot, and the hospital will provide a bedside bassinet for your baby, if you’d like them to sleep in the room with you. If your new baby has any older siblings, they usually can’t stay in the recovery room, but they can visit during hospital visiting hours.

If you choose to breastfeed, you’ll get plenty of time to practice here and will probably meet with a hospital lactation consultant.

Checking Out of the Hospital after Birth

After a day or two of recovery at the hospital, it will be time to head home with your new baby. (You most likely will stay longer if you’ve had a c-section.) The nurses will give you both a final checkup and send you home with plenty of instructions (and probably some disposable mesh underwear).

Someone at the hospital will walk down to your car with you to see you out safely and make sure you have that car seat in there!


Kelsey Wallace is a writer, producer and editor for television and publications including Oregon Public Broadcasting and Bitch magazine. She lives in Portland with her toddler and husband.

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