What to expect when arriving at the hospital

Knowing what to expect before you arrive at hospital can prepare you for a positive birthing experience. By Licia Selepe


It’s impossible to know what will happen during labour and birthing, but understanding the procedures you will have to follow will put your mind at ease and prevent you from having to make stressful last-minute decisions. Although the medical routine following your admission to hospital may vary from hospital to hospital, it will help to familiarise yourself with the following basic guidelines.

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Book your bed and complete the registration forms ahead of time. Once you’ve done this, most hospital maternity units will offer a scheduled tour of the ward. Independent midwifery consultant and researcher, Dr Diana du Plessis, says it’s a good idea to take advantage of this offer. The more familiar you are with your surroundings, the less intimidated you’ll be by the process. You can talk to your midwife about the way things are done at your hospital or birth centre, and what you would like for the birth.

ALSO SEE: 12 questions to ask on a maternity hospital tour

Prepare the following items in advance of your due date:

  • Your antenatal card and/or blue hospital card containing your information
  • Medical aid authorisation number and details
  • Bed-booking receipt
  • Your green barcoded identity document
  • Your birth plan
  • Your hospital bag.

Your arrival

“It will assist the staff in the maternity unit to know that you’re on your way to the hospital, so it’s a good idea to phone the hospital when you think you’re in labour,” says Dr Du Plessis. “Moms should know that in order for hospitals to function well, certain routines and procedures are in place,” she continues. The first thing you might be expected to do when you arrive is register and present your antenatal record card at the maternity unit’s admissions desk. At some hospitals you can register ahead of time, so most of the paperwork will already be done. Once registered, you will be taken to the maternity ward or your room (in some cases you will enter through the emergency room and be taken by staff to the maternity ward from there). Here you will need to undress completely and put on a hospital gown. You may also opt to wear your own tracksuit or pyjamas, so make sure you would be happy to dispose of these after the birth.

What to expect at the maternity ward

Dr Du Plessis explains that once you’ve been admitted, a midwife will be assigned to you for the duration of labour. If her shift ends, you will be assigned another midwife for the remainder of the time. “Even if the mother has an assisted or C-section delivery, the midwife will remain with her throughout the birth. If the labour is uncomplicated, you may not see the doctor until you’re ready to deliver,” she adds.

The midwife will write down your medical and antenatal history. If you’re on medication, even homeopathic or herbal, take these with you and let the midwife know as she will need to know everything in the event of an emergency. The status of your health will be determined by checking your blood pressure, urine, pulse and body temperature. Your baby’s health will be checked with a foetal heart monitor that also records contractions and your baby’s heartbeat during and between contractions. A vaginal examination will be performed to determine how dilated you are and the position of your baby’s head. These checks will be repeated at intervals throughout your labour, so don’t be afraid to ask the midwife how far dilated you are and what stage of labour you’re in.

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What if it’s a false alarm?

If you’ve experienced Braxton Hicks, a plan of care will be made for you. You will either remain in the hospital for further assessment, or be sent home. If your contractions aren’t too strong, this is when the midwife will go through your birth plan with you to find out what your preferences for the birth are. Try not to be discouraged by the false alarm.

Going home

After you’ve made the transition from pregnancy to parenthood, you may feel a little overwhelmed. Before going home, take the time to have any questions you have about bleeding, breastfeeding, baby blues, signs of infections and medications answered.
Before leaving the hospital, make sure you know how to clean your baby’s cord as well as bath and swaddle her.

ALSO SEE: Your ultimate newborn guide with advice from real moms and parenting experts

Other considerations:

  • Have your maternity leave and UIF forms filled in.
  • Make sure you register your baby.
  • Ask for an immunisation record, including a list of essential vaccinations your baby will need to have in the following weeks.


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