What to do when baby comes early


It is highly unlikely that you will experience an emergency childbirth. And if labour and birth happen rather suddenly and the baby is determined to make its way into the world, it usually means that everything is going very well (unless you are in preterm labour before 37 weeks).

Many fathers-to-be worry about emergency childbirth and fear being caught in rush hour traffic with a birthing
mom. If mom is having her baby at home, she may worry that her baby may arrive before her midwife! So it’s
a good idea to be prepared in case it happens to you, or you find yourself helping someone else! Most of what you need to do is help the mother relax and let her body do the work. The most important thing to remember is birth is a natural process and it happens all the time.

  • Don't panic: Remaining calm will keep you focused – even if you are alone. Do your best to reassure and keep the mother calm as well.
  • Call your doctor, midwife, or emergency services if possible: If you are in a car, pull over in a safe area and put on your hazard lights. Do not drive while your focus is on what is happening on the back seat - you're much safer having the baby in the car while it's stationary.
  • Assist the mother into the knee chest position: This will help the baby move back, away from the perineum and may hold up the process for a few more precious minutes. Or position the mother on her side or propped up and take off pants and underwear. The time immediately prior to delivery is known as the transitional phase of labour and it is normal for the mother to feel panicky, anxious and overwhelmed. 
  • Assist her to stay calm and focused: Encourage the mother to pant, and if she has to, only push very gently with the contractions. If you can, call emergency services or your own doctor for assistance even telephonically.
  • Keep the area as clean as possible: and if you are able, wash your hands.
  • Guide the mother in pushing: Don't encourage her to push unless she feels an unstoppable urge to do so - she needs to conserve her energy. As the baby's head becomes visible, place your hand on the head and support it to keep it from popping out too quickly. The mother should try and pant during this part to help prevent damaging her pelvic floor.
  • Support the baby's head as it emerges: This step isn't complicated, but it's important. Never pull on the baby or its head! As the mother's body does the work of expelling her baby, you gently guide the baby out.
  • Do not pull on the cord: If the cord is around the baby's neck loosen and slip over the baby's head or loosen enough for the rest of the baby to slip though. Do not cut or tie off the cord.
  • Gently stroke downward on the baby's nose: to help expel the excess mucus and amniotic fluid.
  • Place the baby skin-to-skin on mom: (skin-to-skin contact encourages a hormone called oxytocin, which will help to expel the placenta) and try to tip the baby's head slightly lower than its body in order to promote drainage of mucus.
  • Cover both mom and baby with dry blankets or towels: or whatever clothing you have with you.
  • If the placenta is expelled, place it next to the baby: (and do not cut the cord).
  • Try to get the baby to begin nursing: As this will release oxytocin (a hormone which causes the uterus to contract) which will help the placenta to release and control bleeding. Stimulating the mother's nipples will also cause the release of oxytocin.
  • Rub the mother's stomach below her belly button firmly: to help slow down the bleeding. It might hurt her, but it will help. Keep rubbing until the uterus feels like a large grapefruit in the lower belly.
  • Keep mom and baby safe until the help arrives: or you can get to hospital. Should you pass another hospital with a casualty - pull in there and ask for help. Mom and baby can be transferred to the intended birthing facility once they have been checked out.
  • We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
    In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
    Subscribe to News24
    Voting Booth
    The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
    Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
    Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
    7% - 715 votes
    I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
    83% - 8425 votes
    Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
    10% - 1005 votes
    Rand - Dollar
    Rand - Pound
    Rand - Euro
    Rand - Aus dollar
    Rand - Yen
    Brent Crude
    Top 40
    All Share
    Resource 10
    Industrial 25
    Financial 15
    All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
    Editorial feedback and complaints

    Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.