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When Should I Leave For the Hospital?!

You've gone what feels like years being pregnant and FINALLY things start to happen. You're anxious, excited, nervous, scared....alllllll the feelings. "Should we go to the hospital now? What about now? I think we should go now."

One of the top questions we get asked when we teach Childbirth Education is "When do I know to leave for the hospital?"

We have some questions, tricks and things to look out for that will help you determine if now is a good time to start the car and get going!

How far away are you from the hospital?

It's good to know distance and time wise how far you are to the hospital. Depending on that you can decide what you are comfortable with. Do you want to labor at home for as long as possible? Do you feel more comfortable at the hospital? Knowing you have "x" amount of time in the car can put some anxiety at bay.

4 1 1 / 5 1 1

Okay, here is the (beyond) meat and potatoes. A general rule of thumb to know when to leave for the hospital is looking at the timing of your contractions and using this numerical acronym 4 1 1 or 5 1 1.

These numbers stand for are your contractions 4 (or 5) minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute, keeping track for 1 hour.

Let's break this down.

Why 4 minutes or 5 minutes? If we look at a "textbook" birth (newsflash there is no such thing as a textbook birth, but we need some sort of marker so we'll use it as an example) you dilate 1 cm every 1 hour. So let's do some math...if you have to be at least 10cm dilated to be considered fully dilated and ready to push, and you are at 4 minutes apart you could say that you are at around 6cm dilated! Something to keep in mind and ask your provider about is that hospitals won't admit you unless you are at least 4cm dilated.

How do you time contractions?! When you time a contraction you are not timing from the end of one to the beginning of another. You time from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next. Confused? Don't worry! Download a contraction app on your phone. There are about a gajillion that will do the math for you!

****Important to note that the 4 or 5 minutes that you are timing is an average during that 1 hour period that you are timing.

Contractions lasting for 1 minute. You will notice early on that contractions will be all over the place in the beginning. 30 second contractions, 45 second, 1 minute, back to 30 seconds. You may notice that you always have 30 second contractions and they don't go to a minute but they are 5 minutes apart. You are looking at the average during that hour time frame AND noting what your body naturally does. Those 30 second people will never have 1 minute contractions. So look at what your body is doing and take the average!

The 1 hour marker timeframe is looking at that "textbook" case of 1 cm per 1 hour. Remember that labor is looooooonnnnnnnnnngggggggggg. It's a marathon, not a sprint!

Have your waters broken and did you test positive for Group B Strep?

If the answer to BOTH these questions is "yes", then speak to your provider about what they suggest you do if your waters break outside the hospital. Providers may want you to come in as soon as your water breaks to give you rounds of antibiotics via an IV.

Have your waters broken and there is a lot of blood, or opaque color of brown, green, yellow? Do your waters have a putrid smell?

Your water breaking should be a clear(ish) color with a tinge of mucous, blood, pinkish coloring. If your water breaking leaves an opaque color of brown, green, yellow or if there is a lot of blood and a putrid smell (it should smell like your vaginal flora) then it could be a sign of distress or infection in which case just head to the hospital to be safe!

What if my water breaks at home?

If your water breaks, you are experiencing contractions, and you are not positive for Group B strep and all is good based on the above question - then you have every right to stay at home and labor for as long as you want! If your birth plan says to labor at home, labor at home! You can take as much or as little time at home as you'd like. It's not like in the movies where you see a huge gush of water and then everyone frantically running around to get to the hospital. That is just for our entertainment. In reality, we know that labor is long, nothing is a rush (unless it's an emergency), and you can rest easy knowing you can stay put even if your water breaks!

Do you want to go to the hospital? Is something inside telling you NOW is the time to go?

I think you know what we are going to say here ;) Trust your gut and listen to your body. If there is something telling you it's time, or you are ready for that epidural or any other reason that tells you it's time to go, then baby - IT IS TIME TO GO! Remember this is your birth. Trust your body and your baby to guide you!

Have questions about when to leave for the hospital or want to know more about Childbirth Education classes with us? Reach out to us at

We host seasonal (virtual for now) in-depth childbirth education classes where we go over this and A LOT more!

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