When Should You Go To The Hospital For Labor?

When you're pregnant, you'll likely experience a bag of emotions as your due date approaches. Knowing when to head to the hospital to give birth is one thing that will make you informed about what to do and hopefully ease some of your nerves. Even though your due date is the day you've been waiting for during the past nine months, only an estimated 5% of women give birth on their actual due date (via Better Health Channel). Instead, most babies make their appearance within a week on either side of their due date, though the range for birth is between 37 and 41 weeks of pregnancy.

Each baby makes their appearance at a unique time, just like your labor is likely to be unique, too. In fact, your body will begin to prepare for labor up to a month before you give birth, so you may start to feel sensations associated with labor weeks before your baby actually arrives, according to Kaiser Permanente. You've probably heard stories of false alarms when women have gone to the hospital believing that they were in labor, but the contractions instead turned out to be practice contractions, officially known as Braxton Hicks contractions. Braxton Hicks contractions occur as your uterus begins to expand in preparation for childbirth, which you can think of as your body's way of warming up for a big event the same way a runner trains for a marathon.

Recognizing signs of active labor

While Braxton Hicks contractions are your body's way of preparing for the big event of giving birth, active labor is when your body signals that it's ready for the big day, per the National Health Service (NHS). Signs of active labor include contractions that become more intense and frequent, the mucus plug blood dropping from your cervix, backache, an urge to use the bathroom, and your water breaking. When your contractions begin to last 60 seconds or the time between contractions shortens to five minutes, you should head to the hospital. At any time before then that you feel you might be in labor, call your midwife or doctor to ask how you should proceed.

UC San Diego Health recommends going to the hospital if your water breaks, even if you aren't experiencing contractions. Once your water breaks, your baby's arrival is imminent. After you arrive at the hospital, you'll be examined to see how far you've dilated. If you are less than four centimeters dilated, then you may be sent home and instructed to return to the hospital when labor has progressed. If you are more than four centimeters dilated, then you'll likely be admitted to the hospital and the process of childbirth will get underway. For women who have scheduled births, such as pre-planned cesarean sections, it's recommended that you arrive at the hospital two hours prior to the scheduled time.