A pregnant woman in a hospital gown stands holding her baby bump.

When should I go to the hospital?

Nearly 4 million babies are born each year in the United States and 32% of them are delivered via C-section. The World Health Organization recommends that only 10-15% of babies be delivered by C-section, which would account for C-sections that are medically necessary and eliminate those that are not. There are many factors that contribute to the exceedingly high U.S. C-section rate, one of which is that women are admitted too early in their labor. Women who are admitted to the hospital before they reach active labor are more likely to deliver by C-section. Early labor can last longer than you think!  

Early labor, also called latent labor, can last anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. The earlier a woman is admitted to the hospital, the higher her risk of delivering by C-section. Medically unnecessary C-sections can lead to longer recovery for mom and are linked to higher rates of asthma and allergies for baby. By delaying your arrival to the hospital until you are in active labor, you will be better set up to follow the birth plan of your choice. Doctors usually consider a true contraction to be one that you can’t talk through.

The rule of thumb that women often use to determine when they are in active labor is called the 3-1-1 rule. This rule means that contractions are happening every 3 minutes, each lasts a full minute, and they have been going on for an hour. At that point, call your hospital or provider and they can talk you through next steps. Control over your birth plan can lead to fewer unwelcomed interventions. Women who wait to arrive to the hospital until they are in active labor are less likely to have a C-section than if they arrive earlier, during latent labor.

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