For expectant mothers, the question of when to go to the hospital can be perplexing. Occasional contractions and false labor are common during the last trimester of pregnancy; they are the body’s way of preparing for labor and delivery.
First pregnancies are especially difficult because labor can often last for many hours and progress much more slowly than in subsequent pregnancies and deliveries. A few guidelines can help settle the matter of when to go to the hospital in most cases.
One way to distinguish real labor from the Braxton-Hicks contractions that occur frequently during the last trimester is to time the contractions. Braxton-Hicks contractions are typically irregular and cause cramping that may resemble real labor, but they do not progress or speed up over time. By contrast, labor contractions are spaced relatively far apart at the beginning, but the interval between these contractions gradually shortens over a period of hours. For uncomplicated pregnancies, the trip to the hospital should usually occur when these contractions are about five minutes apart. It is usually advisable to call the obstetrician or midwife before going to the hospital to ensure that everything is ready upon arrival.
The rupture of the membranes inside the uterus that hold the amniotic fluid is another sign that it is time to head to the hospital. Colloquially known as the water breaking, this usually occurs during the last stages of labor. If this occurs before regular contractions have begun or at any point before the expectant mother’s arrival at the hospital, it is essential to check with the midwife or obstetrician and obtain medical attention as soon as possible in order to protect the health of both mother and child.
Any unexplained vaginal bleeding should be reported to the doctor or midwife immediately. A trip to the doctor’s office or a hospital stay may be required in order to determine the cause of the bleeding and prevent any risk to the mother or child.
Parents expecting multiples or mothers who have experienced other complications during pregnancy should follow the advice of their midwife or obstetrician regarding when to go to the hospital. Generally, these pregnancies require extra attention and the expecting parents may be asked to go to the hospital much earlier in order to receive the care and monitoring necessary during labor and delivery.