When do I actually need to go to the hospital/birthing center?

Unless they’re planning on giving birth at home, all moms-to-be find themselves needing to figure out when is the right time for a change of scenery, from the comfort of home to their chosen hospital or birthing center. However, the answer to that question isn’t always obvious. The beginning of regular contractions may seem like exactly the time to rush to the hospital or birthing center – you’re in labor, right? But in reality, a significant portion of the first stage of labor can happen at home, and if you go to the hospital during this early period, you may be encouraged to head back home until you’re further along.

In general, the best way to know when to head in is to call your doctor, midwife, hospital, or birthing center and describe your symptoms. Then your doctor or midwife will be able to tell you whether it’s best to stay where you are, come in to get checked out, or race across town as you safely can. Your healthcare provider is your best guide to when the best time to leave the house is, but there are a few general guidelines that he or she will probably follow.

If you start having contractions before your water breaks

It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between very early labor and regular pregnancy aches and pains, but if you start to have contractions with increasing regularity, instead of just occasionally at random, or if you get a lower-back ache that doesn’t go away, there’s a good chance that it’s a sign of the beginning of the first stage of labor, even if your water hasn’t broken yet.

At this point, it’s time to get in touch with your healthcare provider, but if everything sounds like it’s progressing normally, they’ll probably tell you to stay where you are and start recording the timing of your contractions, and to head in either when your water breaks, or when contractions are about a minute long, and about three minutes apart.

If your water breaks before you start having contractions

It’s less common for your water to break before regular contractions begin. If the membranes in the amniotic sac that has been cushioning Baby and protecting them from infections for all these months bursts, releasing clear liquid either in a burst or a trickle, and your labor doesn’t begin soon after, there’s a good chance your healthcare provider will ask you to come in to at least get checked out. However, because most women whose water breaks before their contractions begin go into labor in the hours following, your provider may recommend that you wait, too.

When your water breaks, the baby becomes more vulnerable to infection, and so depending on your and Baby’s health and individual situation, your healthcare provider may either recommend inducing labor or waiting carefully, or even consider treating potential infections with antibiotics, until labor begins naturally. If your water breaks and labor doesn’t begin within a day or so, your healthcare provider will probably recommend inducing labor.

If the amniotic fluid that is released when your water breaks is discolored instead of clear, or has a strong smell, be sure to tell your healthcare provider, since this may be a sign of complications.

  • “Labor and Delivery: What to Expect.” HopkinsMedicine. The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and the Johns Hopkins Health System, n.d. Web. Accessed 7/19/17. Available at
  • “When to Go to the Hospital.” SutterHealth. Sutter Health, 2008. Web. Accessed 7/19/17. Available at
  • “When to Come to the Hospital.” Oregon Health & Science University, 2017. Web. Accessed 7/19/17. Available at

Related Topics

Get the Ovia Pregnancy app
Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Apple App Store Get our app at the Google Play Store Get our app at the Google Play Store