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How to Know When to Go to the Hospital for Labor Pains

Your due date gives you a general idea of when your newest family member will arrive, but you can't predict exactly when your body will begin true labor. Even when the contractions start you won't necessarily rush straight to the hospital. If you head to the hospital too soon, you run the risk of getting sent home until your labor progresses further. Wait too long and you risk giving birth before you arrive or having to deliver without pain medications if your labor is too far along. Learn the signs of true labor to determine when to go.

Discuss when to go to the hospital with your midwife or obstetrician before you go into labor 2. Ask her if you should call her first or go straight to the hospital. Determine how close she wants your contractions and other prerequisites for heading to the hospital or calling her.

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Drive the route to the hospital from your home to time the trip. If the trip is long, keep in mind you'll want to leave for the hospital sooner to ensure you arrive in plenty of time.

Time the length and spacing between contractions once they start, recording the times to determine if they are regular and closely spaced. Look for contractions that come consistently and get closer together, with each contraction lasting around a minute to identify true labor. Many prenatal care providers recommend calling when contractions are consistently about five minutes apart.

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Note the intensity of the contractions along with the timing. Strong contractions that increase in intensity are likely real contractions. As it nears time to head to the hospital, you may have more difficulty breathing through the pain.

Watch for any vaginal discharge that indicates true labor is underway. Look for a slightly bloody discharge or a thick mucus discharge. Clear liquid either in a small stream or a larger gush indicates ruptured membranes. Head to the hospital or call your doctor right away if you suspect your membranes ruptured.

Seek medical care immediately if you notice a decrease in your baby's movements or if you bleed heavily with or without contractions.


The first labor typically progresses more slowly. If you've already had one baby, your labor is more likely to progress quickly. Keep this in mind when deciding when to leave for the hospital to give yourself plenty of time to get there.