When To Go To The Hospital For Labor: Signs To Look Out For

Pregnant women often wonder how to know when to go to the hospital for labor.
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You might be both excited and nervous about labor pain and giving birth, but it can also be a confusing and worrying time.

For first-time moms and experienced parents alike, it can be hard to know when pains and twinges you are experiencing are the real deal and when it is time to head to the hospital to meet your baby! Why not take a look at this article, which offers advice on how to know when to go to the hospital for labor for some guidance and advice?

If you like reading our tips, you could also read our guide to when do babies say mama or find some gentle exercises to induce labor at home.

How To Know When To Go To The Hospital For Labor

Labor pain varies from one woman to another and from pregnancy to pregnancy. As your due date approaches, you might be wondering exactly when it is time to go to the hospital and you will be looking out for any signs of early labor or of labor progressing.

Labor pain can feel like intense cramping and extreme discomfort in the abdomen and lower back. Some women also feel itchy on their abdomen and experience pain in their thighs. In labor, the muscles of the uterus contract, and there is a lot of pressure on the cervix, the main pains that women experience as a result of this are called contractions. In labor, these contractions keep coming, and there is a minor interval between each contraction. The length and intensity of contractions increase as your labor progresses, so if they are getting stronger and longer, they are signs of labor, and it's probably time to head to the hospital.

Early Labor Symptoms

Discover the main signs of labor and when to go to the hospital.

How do you know if you are in labor? Here's some guidance on some of the early signs of labor to help you prepare yourself before the exciting time comes!

Your baby drops: If you are pregnant for the first time, your baby will drop in your uterus a few weeks before the actual labor begins.

Your cervix enlarges: The cervix starts to enlarge itself in preparation for labor. It opens up and starts to become thinner weeks before your delivery date. During checkups at the end of your pregnancy, the dilation and effacement of your cervix are usually measured and monitored by your doctor.

More cramps and lower back pain: Towards the end of your pregnancy you might feel more cramps and pain in the lower part of your back. Your joints and muscles will also start to stretch.

You start to feel tired: If you are in the third trimester, you will have a big bump by now, and your bladder and other organs are increasingly compressed. It might become a little difficult to get comfortable and to sleep during the last weeks of your pregnancy as you get closer to labor and delivery.

Your joints loosen up: Towards the end of pregnancy, your joints loosen up, caused by an increase in a hormone called relaxin in your body. This is also partly the reason that many mothers describe becoming more clumsy during pregnancy.

You might have diarrhea: To prepare for labor the uterus muscles in your body relax, along with this so do muscles in the rectum. This can sometimes lead to diarrhea.

A change in your vaginal discharge: One early sign of labor approach is if you notice a release of pinkish or bloody mucus in your vaginal discharge. This can be in small or large pieces and this bloody show is expected at the end of your pregnancy. It is not a sign to go to the hospital right away but can show that your labor is imminent.

The frequency of the contractions increases and becomes stronger: As your delivery date approaches you might experience Braxton Hicks contractions (or false labor months). You will feel your uterus muscles tighten up to get ready to deliver your baby. However, a sign of actual labor is if the contractions you are experiencing get closer together and increase in both intensity and length, signifying early active labor.

Your water breaks: A woman's water breaking is the final stage that most women experience, signifying that they close to labor and delivery.

What Do Contractions Feel Like?

If you are experiencing labor contractions you are likely to feel extreme pain in the lower back of the belly and pressure in your pelvic girdle. The movement of contractions can be described as a wave, starting from the top of the uterus and ending at the bottom.

Some women experience false labor in the lead up to their due date. This is caused by 'practice' contractions called Braxton Hicks contractions. These can be confusing for mothers-to-be, so it is important to know the difference between real labor contractions and Braxton Hicks contractions.

Real contractions are caused by the release of the oxytocin hormone, causing the uterus to contract. Real contractions usually start around the 40th week of pregnancy for many women, but this can vary greatly. Real contractions that occur before the 37th week are known as premature labor.                                      

In a real contraction, the top part of the uterus is tightened, pushing the baby downward and preparing the baby for labor and delivery. In a real contraction, the contraction can feel like a wave and the mother's belly feels very hard.

Mothers with intense labor pain, when the contractions are four minutes apart or less, last for at least a minute, and have done for an hour, should go to the hospital. As the time between contractions gets shorter and short and the intensity and length of the contractions increase, you are one step closer to delivering your baby.

What Do Braxton Hicks Feel like?

Braxton Hicks are described as contractions to get the body ready for birth. Braxton Hicks contractions can give you the false sensation of labor and are often mistaken for real contractions. This contraction is named after the doctor who was first noticed and described it.

Braxton Hicks are uncomfortable and can be painful. The contraction is likened to very intense menstrual cramps, involving a tightening of the stomach. These pains come and go, lasting for approximately 30 seconds to two minutes.

Braxton Hicks contractions do not lead to labor delivery. This type of contraction usually starts in the seventh, eighth, or ninth months of your pregnancy and this false contraction can occur at any time of the day. Braxton Hicks contractions do not show any actual pattern, so they do not increase in length and intensity over time.

When a Braxton Hicks contraction occurs, your belly will tighten. It is not severe but can be painful. Signs to show that you are having Braxton Hicks contractions include:

The contractions usually come and go, lasting for 30 seconds to two minutes.

The contractions don't get closer together. They are not strong enough to cause you severe pain.

The contractions usually go away once you change your position or empty your bladder.

When contractions are four minutes apart your are close to meeting your baby.

How To Time Contractions?

When you think you are experiencing real labor contractions it is important to time them to work out how close together they are. You should time them for about one hour. If the contractions are getting closer together and becoming stronger with time, it means you are experiencing actual labor.

To time contractions you should start your timer when the contraction starts and count the time until the next one begins. This will give you the time between your contractions. As your labor progresses you will need the support of a birth partner to time your contractions for you. When the labor pain or real contractions are four minutes apart, it's time to go to the hospital or birthing center.

If you are not sure if you are experiencing actual labor symptoms or are in early labor or active labor, it is always best to call your doctor or go to the hospital and seek medical help. It's better to take medical advice, even if does turn out to be false labor. Your and your baby's health is the most important thing. It's also crucial to seek medical help if you are less than 37 weeks pregnant and are experiencing regular contractions, if your labor gets extremely painful or if your water breaks.

If you found this article helpful, then why not take a look at when do babies smile and the worst weeks for morning sickness.

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