One of the crucial times before your child’s birth is when to go to the hospital for labor. If you go too late or too soon, you may end up with unwanted medical interventions instead of the birth you wanted. Therefore, it is best to know when you should really go.

Signs of Labor

There are some common signs that labor is common and being familiar with them will help you get a better idea of when to go to the hospital for labor.

1. Contractions

Contractions start to become more uncomfortable and noticeable during the third trimester between two and four weeks before you give birth. Braxton Hicks contractions prepare your body for labor by softening up the cervix and you may also experience latent labor which is the earliest stage of the process and involves stronger, achy spasms which occur in an inconsistent pattern.

There is a difference between these contractions and regular ones which are close together, painful, sharp, forceful, and include back pain. The second type indicates you are in active labor. Measure the time between contractions as well as their length to see if they are getting more frequent. Contractions that last a minute and are five minutes apart (or less) for more than an hour indicate you are in labor and should go to the hospital. If the contractions become less painful or slow down when you move, drink, shower or eat, then you can still wait.

2. Bloody Show

When your cervix starts to open, the mucus plug that prevented infection and sealed the cervix may be released in the form of a jelly-like discharge (complete or in smaller portions). It is called the “bloody show” because it frequently shows hints of red, pink or light brown. It may dislodge a few weeks before you give birth, but it is more common to occur just a few hours or days before. It can lead to the membranes rupturing shortly after. Keep in mind that the mucus plug may break during a vaginal exam or sexual intercourse so the bloody show doesn’t always indicate cervical dilation. A vaginal exam at the hospital will determine whether that is the case.

3. Rupturing of Membranes

The rupturing of membranes is the medical term for when the water breaks and is when the woman’s amniotic sac (which protects and surrounds the baby) bursts, causing fluid to flow out of the vagina. This can occur several hours to days before the baby’s birth.

When their water breaks, some women worry that they lost bladder control. In reality, amniotic fluid can’t be controlled via uterine muscle contractions and doesn’t smell like urine. It will be either clear or have pink traces and trickle slowly or suddenly gush. It sometimes occurs at the same time as the bloody show. If you already have regular contractions, you may need your doctor to artificially break your waters.

Many women mistake the accumulation of vaginal fluids for their water breaking. It is actually normal and does not indicate labor for vaginal discharge to pool while lying down to sleep only to trickle out when a woman gets up in the morning. This is obviously different from the waters breaking as it is milky and sticky and when it dries, it seems like egg white.

4. Nesting

Some women begin to “nest” a few days to weeks before they go into labor. This is simply cleaning every area of the home and organizing it to help prepare for the baby.

When to Go to the Hospital for Labor

There are some signs that labor has started, but you might not always know when you should go to the hospital. The following information can help you decide when to go, either as an indication that labor started or that something may be wrong.

Most hospitals suggest you come in if you have labor symptoms in addition to existing medical conditions, are carrying more than one babies, are far away from your hospital, or are fewer than 38 weeks along in the pregnancy.

For women who are having their first baby and are 38 to 42 weeks pregnant, you can wait until your contractions are about five minutes apart to head to the hospital. If you have given birth before, you can wait until they are about seven minutes apart.

Signs That You Should Go to the Hospital

If you notice any of the following signs, head to the hospital immediately:

  • The urge to push
  • You think your water broke
  • You have had a complicated pregnancy or a previous pregnancy with complications
  • You are having multiple births or your baby is under 37 weeks (preterm)
  • Your baby is breech (bottom first)
  • Your first labor was very rapid (two to three hours)
  • You are uncomfortable and having difficulty talking
  • Resting doesn’t slow contractions but walking makes them stronger
  • The contractions occur five minutes apart for at least an hour
  • The contractions increase and are regular

Additional reasons to go to the hospital include the following as it may be necessary to rule out a problem:

  • Dizziness or blurred vision
  • Unrelenting, unbearable pain
  • No movement from your baby
  • Vomiting that lasts a long time
  • Bleeding (which can indicate placenta praevia or the placenta separating prematurely)
  • The mucus plug or waters being tinged with yellow, dark brown, or green as this might indicate meconium which is the baby’s digestive fluid and eventually his first bowel movement, but its presence at this point increases the mother’s risk for infection.
  • Seizures
  • Intense pain in the abdomen or stomach
  • Swelling of your face or hands

If you are unsure of whether you should go to the hospital, call your doctor, midwife or nurse to describe your symptoms and they will give you the proper advice.

What to Expect When You Arrive At the Hospital

When you first arrive, the nurse will check your temperature and blood pressure, check your baby’s heart rate and your contractions, and may get urine and blood samples. They will then do a vaginal exam to determine how dilated you are. They will either admit you to the hospital or suggest you return home and wait a bit longer.

Watch a video to learn more about when to go to the hospital for labor as well as what to expect when you arrive at the hospital: