When to Go to the Hospital

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If you are in labor, when should you leave for your place of birth?

If all you have heard is “go to the place of birth when your contractions are 5 minutes apart,” you are only getting a part of the story. What are some crucial things to consider when making the decision about when to go to your hospital or birth center during your labor?

  1. How many previous births have you had? This plays a role since after your first birth, labors tend to be faster.
  2. How far is the birth center or hospital? You should factor travel time into your decision. Leave sooner than active labor if you live more than 45 minutes away (especially if this is your second or later baby.)
  3. Are you low risk or high-risk? Generally providers recommend high-risk mothers get to the place of birth sooner. If you are unsure of your health status, check with your provider.
  4. Know the difference between early and active labor. There is more to it than the timing of contractions. If you only time contractions, you will very likely get to the hospital too soon. Read the article on possible and definite labor signs.
  5. How fast was your first labor? If your first labor was under 3 hours, you should leave as soon as you start to feel regular contractions regardless of how far apart they are.
  6. Are you planning to use pain medication such as an epidural? If so, you will need time for admitting procedures which include blood work and IV fluid prior to receiving pain medication.
  7. Are your contractions intense? If so, you may not need to wait for contractions to get as close as 5 minutes apart.
  8. Do not be overly-concerned with having an unexpected childbirth at home with your first baby. When you read articles in the paper about a baby being born in the car, it is nearly always a later baby. If fact, more first-time parents get to the hospital too soon rather than too late. When in doubt, pay more attention to the intensity of contractions and signs of active labor.
  9. What birth experiences did your mother have? While research does not bear this out, it is possible that there may be some similarities between how your mother labored and how you might labor.
  10. Pack your bags early just in case labor is faster than expected. It never hurts to have nearly everything ready to go so that this is one less thing to accomplish.
  11. If you are less than 37 weeks pregnant and you are experiencing signs of labor, call your care provider or go to the hospital as soon as possible since you may be experiencing preterm labor.

In general, a good rule of thumb is if this is your first baby and you live a reasonable distance from your place of birth, you should plan to go to the hospital when your contractions are 3-5 minutes apart, lasting for 60 seconds, for at least one full hour or more. Your contractions should be progressing and intense enough that you have difficult talking much in between contractions.

Remember that it is always a good idea to talk to your own medical provider since their guideline for you may be quite different.

For more about labor, click here.

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