Q. This is my second child, and I'm worried that I won't make it to the hospital on time. During my first labor, my doctor told me to wait until the contractions were 5 minutes apart, and by the time I got to the hospital, I was already fully dilated. This made my delivery feel rushed. Should I come in sooner this time?
A. Every labor and delivery is different. First-time moms can usually expect to labor for several hours at home and still have many more hours ahead of them at the hospital, which is why that 5-minutes-apart rule is the standard. In general, everything is faster with a second pregnancy, so don't wait too long. Still there's a great deal of variation in how quickly a woman moves from early labor to active labor (when contractions are no more than 4 minutes apart), and that's what makes things so unpredictable.
In addition to timing your contractions, consider how far away you are from your birth center or hospital and how dilated your cervix was at your last prenatal visit. Also consider how quickly your contractions intensified last time. How long did it take you to go from contractions that were 5 minutes apart to the transition phase of labor or to contractions that were only 1-2 minutes apart?
You'll also need to consider getting to the hospital sooner if your membranes have ruptured or if you're extremely anxious or in more pain than you think is normal for early labor. You are the best judge of when to go to the hospital, so go when you think it's time. If you think you'd feel more comfortable, or at least less anxious, if you spend part of that early labor in or near the hospital, then go. The worst that can happen is that they'll send you away for a while. In that case, you can walk around the hospital neighborhood until it's the right time.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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