When to go to the hospital

man with woman in labor in the kitchen

Your body starts preparing for labor in advance — as much as a month before you actually give birth. It can be tough to know when it’s happening for sure. We’ll help you spot the difference between a dress rehearsal and the real deal.

Learn to recognize the signs of labor

When to come to the hospital

Timing is different for every pregnancy. At your third trimester prenatal appointments, we’ll talk about how to know when it’s time, what to do, and where to go, but ideally you’ll come to the hospital when you’re in active labor.

It’s common to think the first signs of contractions are your cue to come to the hospital, but that’s usually not the case. Early labor can last for days. All we can do at this stage is wait for signs that your body is ready to deliver, so a lot of people come in too soon and wind up going home again. Getting from point A to point B isn’t fun during any stage of labor, so call us before you come so we can help you avoid multiple trips. Counting your contractions can help you figure out when it’s really time to go.

Real labor vs. false labor

You might have Braxton Hicks contractions — also called false labor — as your due date approaches. They’re basically warm-ups for childbirth, when your uterus expands and contracts, but you’re not in labor.

What’s the difference?

People call these types of contractions false labor because they can trick you into thinking it’s time when it’s really not. Spot the difference with these signs of Braxton Hicks contractions:

  • There’s no pattern.
  • They don’t last longer than an hour.
  • If you move around, they go away.
  • They aren’t painful.

If you’re still not sure, just call your care team. That’s what we’re here for.

Induced labor

Sometimes there are signs that it’s time to deliver your baby before labor starts on its own. If that happens, your care team might step in and get things going by inducing labor.

Learn why and how we induce labor

Counting labor contractions

A contraction is a tightening of the uterus that feels like cramping or pressure. You should feel it over your entire uterus and possibly into your back. As labor progresses, your contractions become more frequent and regular, so timing them is a good way to figure out when it’s time to head to the hospital.

Timing is everything. Here’s how it works:

  • Start timing your contractions once you feel a few in a row.
  • Time the length of each contraction. If the tightness lasts for 30 seconds or longer, they’re labor contractions.
  • Count the time between contractions from the start of one to the start of the next.

If this is your first baby, come to the hospital when your contractions:

  • Come every 3 to 5 minutes over an hour-long period
  • Last at least 45 to 60 seconds

If you’ve given birth before, come to the hospital when your contractions:

  • Come every 5 to 7 minutes
  • Last at least 45 to 60 seconds

Speeding up the process

If your contractions are still far apart and you want things to go faster, try walking around. It can help your baby move into your pelvis. The pressure that gravity puts on your cervix can also help things move along. You can also try these labor and birth positions to ease discomfort and possibly speed things up a bit.

Planning ahead

The first thing to do is call us to let the care team know you’re on your way. Save the number of Kaiser Permanente's dedicated Labor Line to your phone now so you have it when you need it.

After you call your care team, get going! Grab your hospital bag, head to the hospital, and get ready to meet your new baby.

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