When to Go to the Hospital During Labor

Think you're going into labor? You might not need to rush off to the hospital just yet. Learn when it's time to head over.
profile picture of Melissa M. Goist, MD
ByMelissa M. Goist, MD
OB-GYN
Updated
May 2017
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Photo: iStock

Your labor experience will be as unique as your baby—no two are ever really the same. Which means that going into active labor isn’t exactly tightly scripted. In general, you probably should head for the hospital when your contractions get longer, more intense and more frequent. The contractions themselves typically feel like a menstrual cramp, or a lower backache that wraps around to the front of your body or vice versa.

It can help to have to record the exact time that each contraction begins, how long they last and how much time elapses in between. (Use our contraction counter!) When they come about every five minutes or less apart for at least an hour (or about 20 contractions an hour), it’s go time.

Note that many women tend to think they need to immediately grab their bag and head on into the hospital or birthing center the moment their water breaks, but in reality you still typically have a little time. You can take a shower and even have a quick snack! However, if you see the fluid is more of a green, pea soup-like color, that could be an indication that baby is feeling stressed, and you should get to the hospital relatively quickly.

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