When should I go to the hospital?

Going to the hospital too soon can do more harm than good for you and your baby. In fact, women who are admitted to the hospital at the right time — during active labor — tend to report higher satisfaction, as these women spend less time in the hospital and their labor is able to progress on its own. Though it might feel comforting to be at the hospital under the supervision of nurses as your labor progresses, spending too much time in the hospital during your labor can have a negative impact on your experience. More time at the hospital means more opportunity for unnecessary, sometimes dangerous, interventions to be used during your delivery.

Latent labor, also known as early labor, can last anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. Studies have shown that women who arrive at the hospital when they are only 0-3 cm dilated (latent/early labor) are more likely to experience obstetric interventions than those arriving to the hospital during active labor. Many mothers, especially first-time mothers, have difficulty deciding when to arrive to the hospital when they start contractions. Interventions that are commonly used on women who are admitted to the hospital too early include amniotomy, drugs to stimulate labor, and epidural analgesia, all of which increase the likelihood of delivering by C-section.

Babies born via C-Sections are at higher risk of developing asthma and allergies and for mom, recovery from a C-section is much longer and more involved than recovering from a vaginal delivery. 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. Overall, women who arrive to the hospital too early during labor are subject to unnecessary and risky interventions that can contribute to suboptimal health outcomes for mom and baby.

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