When contractions begin, it’s tempting to head straight to the hospital. But hold on a minute, mama! Read on to find out about timing your contractions and when to go to the hospital.
Nearing your due date and starting to feel something?
Desperately Googling “contractions when to go to hospital” while you throw the final items into your hospital bag?
Hold on a second, mama.
There are a few important questions to ask yourself before you rush off to the hospital, like is this perhaps false labor?
If these are real contractions, how regular are they?
And how long do they last?
Let’s go through the details of labor, timing your contractions, and when to go to the hospital.
In this article: 📝
- What do contractions feel like?
- Am I in real labor or false labor?
- What do Braxton Hicks feel like?
- When should I take contractions seriously?
- When to call your midwife
- Timing your contractions: when to go to the hospital.
- How long should I time my contractions before going to the hospital?
- If you’re having contractions, when to go to the hospital for a second baby?
- What to do if your water breaks?
- Timing your contractions: the bottom line
What do contractions feel like?
A contraction is your womb tightening and then relaxing.
Early labor contractions can often feel just like a tightening.
But as labor progresses, your contractions tend to become more painful.
If you put your hand on your belly during a contraction, you can feel it getting harder.
When the contraction ends, the muscles relax, the belly softens and the pain eases off.
Usually you feel a contraction over your whole uterus and often into your back.
If you’re feeling contractions, you’re likely in labor.
But is this real labor or false labor?
Am I in real labor or false labor?
As you get closer to your due date, you might have Braxton Hicks contractions.
These are also known as false labor.
With Braxton Hicks, your uterus will tighten and relax, which may feel like a contraction.
It’s common to think you’re in early labor at this point, but it’s just your body practicing for childbirth.
Luckily there are some differences between real and false labor to look out for.
What do Braxton Hicks feel like?
- They aren’t painful, more like discomfort or just tightening — you can talk or sleep through them.
- They last between 15 and 45 seconds.
- They’re irregular, so there’s no pattern.
- They go away if you move around or change position.
- They usually happen at the end of the day, especially if you’ve been physically active.
With real labor, contractions come at more regular intervals.
But, like with most things, if you’re unsure, it’s worth calling your healthcare practitioner just to check.
When should I take contractions seriously?
Early labor contractions often start out mildly.
They can be regular or irregular, anything between five and twenty minutes apart, and each contraction can be 30 to 45 seconds.
But don’t rush off to the hospital just yet.
Early labor can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
The best place for early labor is generally at home, unless your doctor has told you otherwise.
It’s a good time to try and rest (and to time your contractions).
When to call your midwife
Usually your healthcare practitioner wants you to let them know when you’re having regular contractions.
But every woman’s situation is different, so it’s best to let them know earlier rather than later so you’re on their radar.
Real labor contractions are mild initially but they get more intense as labor progresses.
They’ll start becoming painful, and the pain will increase.
They’ll also become more frequent and regular, and will last longer (usually between 45 and 60 seconds).
Because they’re regular, you’ll be able to time them and anticipate them.
When your contractions start becoming regular (even if the intervals aren’t 100% consistent), it’s time to call your healthcare practitioner.
Always call if:
- Your water breaks (especially if it’s brown, green, or mixed with blood).
- You start bleeding (especially if it’s bright red).
- You experience blurred or double vision, a severe headache or sudden swelling (or any other preeclampsia symptoms).
Now, let’s talk about timing.
Timing your contractions: when to go to the hospital.
Timing your contractions is a good way to figure out how your labor is progressing.
Also, it’s one of the things your doctor or midwife is going to ask you when you call them.
When you feel a few contractions in a row, it’s time to start timing.
There are some great apps that can help, but otherwise just using a stopwatch on your phone works too.
It’s helpful to have someone time them with you.
- Time the length of each contraction — from when the tightening begins, to when it eases.
- Then time the time between contractions, from the start of one to the start of the next one. (Not from the end of one to the start of the next.)
- Keep on timing.
How long should I time my contractions before going to the hospital?
If this is your first baby, it’s time to go to the hospital when you’re having contractions every three to five minutes consistently.
And if the contractions are at least 45 to 60 seconds long.
Many doctors use the 4-1-1 Rule (or the 5-1-1 Rule).
That’s when your contractions are
- 4 minutes apart (or 5 minutes),
- Lasting 1 minute each,
- For 1 hour, and
- Increasing in strength/intensity.
If you’re having contractions, when to go to the hospital for a second baby?
If this isn’t your first baby, you’ve got to move sooner.
Second (or third or fourth babies) come faster.
When your contractions come every five to seven minutes, and are at least 45 to 60 seconds long, it’s time to grab your hospital bag and head to the hospital.
It’s important to remember that every woman’s situation is different, though.
For example, you might need to head to the hospital sooner if you live further from the hospital or if you have any complications like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes.
What to do if your water breaks?
Your water might break before you start having contractions.
If this happens, get in touch with your doctor, especially if the liquid looks green or brown.
Usually, within 12 to 24 hours of your water breaking, you’ll start to feel contractions.
If you don’t, your healthcare practitioner will likely induce labor to avoid infection.
Timing your contractions: the bottom line
Figuring out if you’re in labor or not, and knowing when to go to the hospital for contractions, can be stressful.
The first step is figuring out if they’re Braxton Hicks or not.
If you’re feeling contractions and you’re pretty sure you’re in labor, take a moment to be excited.
Your baby is starting to move down, and (relatively) soon, your little one will be in your arms.
You’ve got this, mama!