How to Tell When Its Time to Go to the Hospital for Labor

Do you think you may be ready to give birth and wondering when you should go to the hospital for labor? If you are carrying a full term baby and your water has not yet broken, the pain that you may be experiencing could be Braxton Hicks contractions. These contractions are occasional, irregular cramps that may begin around the middle of your pregnancy, that generally subside on their own.

The big question is how to differentiate between these false labor signals and true labor. It can be difficult to guess when you should be going to the hospital, since towards the end of pregnancy you may have many contractions that lead you to believe that you may be in labor. 


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Signs to Help Decide When to Go to the Hospital

There are a few different ways that your body signals true labor and the following signs may help you choose the right time to go to the hospital for labor.


The cramping may begin in your upper and lower abdomen and/or back. When your contractions start as mild and irregular cramps but slowly progress to more painful and regular occurrences, that is when true labor has begun. Some people also talk about this as painful contractions, as some women have plenty of contractions that though painful, may be bearable, and therefore are probably not doing as much to change your cervix. Your doctor or midwife may give you a specific timing of contractions as your signal to go to the hospital.

The 411 method: Contractions 4 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute, for at least 1 hour, signal it's time to go to the hospital.

Feeling the Baby Move During the Contraction

During true labor, you usually don't feel the baby move during the cramp (contraction). What contractions do, is push the baby's head down and slowly thin out (effacement) and open the cervix (dilation). You will feel the same pain in false labor but the contractions don't open the cervix as only real labor dilates the cervix.

You Are Ready, Now What?

Even when you are in true labor, some doctor's and midwives recommend that you don't go to the hospital too early. You are usually more comfortable in early labor in your own home or environment. Going to the hospital too early has been linked to an increase in interventions.

Be sure to ask your doctor or midwife early on in your 3rd trimester when they would like you to come to the hospital. They may have special rules for you because of your medical history or for some other reason.

Your practitioner may also tell you to stay home a bit longer if you are planning on an unmedicated birth, usually because of the comforts of your own home. Many moms find that staying home until later in labor is more comfortable for them.

Special Cases

There are special cases that pertain to your condition that may require you to contact your doctor or midwife immediately, at the first sign of contractions. These special cases include if you are:

  • Preterm
  • Pregnant with twins or multiples
  • Have other high-risk conditions

If you fall into any of the special case categories above, you should contact your doctor or midwife without delay if you experience any of the following conditions:

  • Your water breaks 
  • Heavy bleeding (vaginal)
  • Feel no movement from the baby
  • Your face and hands swell
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness, headaches, or seizures
  • Severe stomach or abdominal pain
  • Gaining more than 4 pounds in a week
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