Aviation's ‘sterile cockpit’ rule holds that distractions on the flight deck should be kept at a minimum during critical phases of flight. To assess current practice at comparable points during obstetric regional anaesthesia, we measured ambient noise and distracting events during 30 caesarean sections in three phases: during establishment of regional anaesthesia; during testing of regional blockade; and after delivery of the fetal head. Mean (SD) noise levels were 62.5 (3.9) dB during establishment of blockade, 63.9 (4.1) dB during testing and 66.8 (5.0) dB after delivery (p < 0.001). The median rates of sudden, loud (> 70 dB) noises, non-clinical conversations and numbers of staff present in the operating theatre increased during each of the three phases. Conversely, entrances into, and exits from, theatre per minute were highest during establishment of regional anaesthesia and decreased over the subsequent two time periods (p < 0.001).