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When Should I Go to the Hospital During Labor?

This is one of the first questions most moms-to-be ask when they reach 37 weeks and become full term. The big problem is that television and movies have led us to believe that labor begins when your water breaks, and then after a grueling hour, the baby is born. However, this is not an accurate portrayal of the labor process, and if you take yourself to the hospital at the first sign of labor, you will likely be sent home. So, how do you know when to go to the hospital?

Early Labor

pregnancy laborEarly labor can be difficult to determine. Once you understand what the difference is between Braxton Hicks and real contractions, you’ll know when real labor has begun. Yet, even if you have determined that you are in the early phase of labor, it is still not time to go to the hospital. Labor is a long process, so the longer you can spend in the comfort of your home, the better. During this phase, your cervix is effacing and dilating to about three centimeters. As this is a gradual process, the contractions are fairly mild and easily managed without the use of any pain management techniques. Use this time to get some rest because you are going to need it. This is also the time to enjoy a final meal since you won’t be able to eat or drink anything in the hospital until after the baby is born.

Active Labor

Once your contractions get to be about five minutes apart, you have successfully transitioned into the active phase of labor and this is when you want to go to the hospital. At this point in the labor process, the contractions have likely become more painful, making it uncomfortable to labor at home. We would love to be able to tell you that since you are now in the active phase of labor, the baby will be arriving shortly. However, this is not usually the case. While this phase of labor is much shorter than early labor, it can last up to eight hours or even more. As the pain has become more severe, it is during this phase when you will get an epidural, if you want one.

When Does My Water Break?

As far as the breaking of the water goes, it varies from person to person. Typically speaking, it will break when your cervix is almost fully dilated. It is funny that pop culture has portrayed the breaking of the water as something that signifies labor has begun, when in reality it is something that happens near the end of labor. Of course, there are circumstances in which the water does break before labor begins, and in these situations we recommend you call your obstetrician or midwife immediately for advice on when to go to the hospital. Since your water has broken, you do not need to wait until active labor has begun.

If you have any other questions about labor, do not hesitate to ask your midwife or obstetrician at your next prenatal appointment.