It's the million dollar question for nearly every first-time mom nearing the end of her pregnancy. Knowing when to head to the hospital so that you don't arrive too early and not so late that you have your baby on the side of the road is a hard to nail down. It's not a perfect science, but there are some tips that can help guide you to know the right time for you. Most care providers give the standard "5-1-1" guidelines for when to call them and/or head to the hospital: when your contractions are consistently 5 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute each, and going on for at least an hour. But this could mean that you are at the hospital earlier than you had wanted, with several more hours of active labor ahead.
Review the following questions and begin to formulate a plan for when you will go to the hospital when you are in labor. Talk it over with your care provider and birth support team for input.
What are your goals? Do you want to stay in the comfort of your own home as long as possible in labor? Or, do you feel more comfortable in the hospital setting? Are you seeking a low intervention birth? Or, are you planning on having an epidural for pain relief? Knowing your goals for labor will help you decide how long to labor at home.
Ask for professional feedback. If you've hired a doula or if your doctor or midwife know about your wishes to labor at home as long as possible, call them for feedback when you're in a good labor pattern. Talk to them for a 10-15 minutes, while you're having a few contractions, so they can help assess where you are in labor and whether or not you should go into the hospital.
Take note of what's happening between contractions. As your labor progresses closer to transition (7/8 cm dilation), you will most likely begin to decrease your activity between your contractions. Prior to this point, you may feel like walking, talking, and moving around in between contractions. When you stop feeling the ability to be mobile in between contractions, you may want to consider going to the hospital.
Listen to your gut. In this time of information overload and "Are You in Labor" online quizzes, we often overlook the most important natural instinct we have: our intuition, or "gut feeling." When in labor, take a few moments to sit quietly by yourself and find out what your gut is telling you. Many women who've had babies will tell you: "you'll just know." And usually, it's true.
How did you know when it was time to go?