Don't Feel Dumb If You Don't Know
One of the top questions I'm asked from parents who take my Birth Talk childbirth education classes is:
"How will I know when it's time to go to the hospital?"
It's actually easier to give reasons when it's not usually time to go! Let's start there.
Know when it's not really labor
When you near your due date, your body may start giving some signs that labor day is getting closer. These may include back ache, the nesting urge — like wanting to clean the entire house or go on a serious shopping spree — and fun bodily functions like loose stools or intermittent cramping.
These preliminary labor signs mean it's usually not quite all systems go, and while you could go into "real" labor quickly, you may also not really be in labor for a few more days — even weeks.
Know when you're getting closer to the big day
Other signs that may indicate you're getting even closer to being in labor include losing your mucous plug, or non-progressing contractions — something's happening, but you can still talk and go about your regular activities during contractions. It's going to be very exciting, but probably not time yet.
Your bag of waters may break, but contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, that's not usually a reason for a mad dash to the hospital, either. Unless your doctor or midwife says otherwise, you may be able to stay at home until labor really kicks in. Find out what hospital/provider protocol is at your next prenatal appointment.
Know when it's really labor
Three words: Longer. Stronger. Closer (together).
When your contractions are coming at least four to five minutes apart, last at least one minute in duration, and that pattern has gone on consistently for one hour or more, it's really labor! You can go to the hospital, or call your healthcare provider if you're still unsure. You'll be amazed how well they can assess labor over the phone. It's the difference between saying, "Yes, Doctor, I'm having a strong contraction right now while I'm talking to you" or "Yes, Doctor, I'm h— (insert heaving breathing and moaning, maybe even an "oww" here)." When you can't talk during contractions and want to start using comfort measures like breathing or relaxation, it's probably time.
But really, how will you know?
No one can say exactly when you'll go into labor, or how long it will take before it's "real." At some point, your body will release wonderful hormones like oxytocin, and your contractions will get longer, stronger and closer together.
Sooner or later, you'll know, and you'll be that much closer to meeting your baby!