When to Go into the Hospital for Labor

One of the most common questions we hear as the due date approaches is mothers wondering when they should head into the hospital during labor. We’ve got some tips and rules of thumb to help you decide what’s best for you!

Understanding labor (and the ins and outs of coping with increasing amounts of discomfort) can assist in preparing for your big day of baby’s birth, but the one piece of the puzzle that proves daunting to many is the question of when to go to the place you’re having your baby?

Asking your provider their preferred timeline in your labor can certainly help you clue yourself in to what a general timeline might look like, but determining what makes you feel best and assuring that it’s the right time for you might require a little more guidance.

How can you keep calm, make sure you’re not going too early - or late! - and still stay within your plans?

We’re here with a few tips to assist you in making the best decisions for your birth!

When to go to the Hospital During Labor

1. Consider How You Feel About Laboring At Home 

Many times, families have to come to grips with what will make them comfortable in their birth environment. Early labor can be a long road - most first timers have 12-24 hours of mild, inconsistent contractions ahead of them before the real work of labor begins - so most prefer to do this work at home.

Additionally, many hospitals have a clear liquids policy once patients enter the labor and delivery unit, restricting eating, which makes being at home more attractive. Freedom to move, use the shower and bath and sleep in your own comfortable space helps the time go faster, and keep the body loose and relaxed. 

2. Work with your Support Team To Practice Comfort Measures 

Having a plan for how to cope with labor once active labor DOES roll around can make the idea of laboring at home - at least for a little bit - less stressful.

  • What will you use in your home to make you feel more supported?

  • Will you be laboring in the shower or bath?

  • Will you use heat therapy?

  • When will your support team members join you in labor?

Usually, our labor doulas join families as active labor beings to intensify to help them stay calm and comforted at home. 

3. Determine A Timeline in Active Labor To ‘Go In’ 

Most providers prefer their patients to come to the hospital when contractions have been regular, intensifying, and active.  A good rule of thumb to keep as a soft guideline is to wait until contractions have been coming regularly and strong for at least three hours without changing with movement, hydration, or comfort. 

Active labor, after all, keeps going no matter what you’re doing, and having three consistent hours of active labor is a good minimum to aim for when you’re a first time mother. This gives the uterus time to begin to make cervical change and push the baby down and help it engage in the pelvis.  Even after three hours, however, active labor may not be intense enough for many mothers to feel the need to go in to their birth location, and it’s totally fine to stay home until labor intensifies.

4. And Keep The Timeline “Fluid”

Keep in mind that even when you have a solid plan on how strong, long and close together you’d like your contractions to be before you head in, you may change your mind when labor is progressing. 

That is totally fine!

Every person has their physical and emotional comfort to consider and being at the site of their baby’s birth is a crucial part of that comfort.  If you’re feeling unsure of when to go, your labor doula can help you determine whether it would be best, sooner or later, to head there. 

5. Use 4-1-1 as a Guideline

As a suggestion, a common labor pattern that shows a mother to be actively laboring is when contractions are four minutes apart, lasting a minute long and remaining in that pattern for an hour. 

Our additions are to wait until they have been consistent at least three hours and that you would no longer be comfortable laboring around anyone other than your support team.  The intensity of contractions should be gradually increasing over time, since your uterus is a strong muscle working hard to push your baby down and help it open! 

6. When In Doubt, Call!

If you’re in labor and still unsure as to what you think you should do, it’s never a bad idea to call your provider and see what they advise.  Some will ask you to do a few things and wait a few more hours, but some might want to see you right away with some of the labor pattern and other symptoms you’re describing. 

No matter what you end up deciding in labor, everyone has their own timeframe for when to go to the hospital.

You’ll serve yourself best to listen to intuition and follow the guidelines for knowing when active labor has been established, and from there you can make your own decisions. 

Unsure about how to determine the differences? Our labor doulas can help during that transitional time period from early to active labor and ease your worries about when to go by remaining by your side during different phases of your labor process!