Four Signposts to Know When to Go to the Hospital or Birth Center

Many expecting families wonder how they will know that it’s the right time to go to the hospital or birth center, or summon their midwife for a home birth. They’re trying to figure out the place in between arriving too early, and having a baby in the car. These four tips will help you look at the signposts of labor to decide the best timing for you to get to/get your birth attendant to your birth space.


1. Timing Contractions

Somewhere between 5-1-1 and 3-1-1 is usually a good time to make your way to the hospital or birth center. The first number represents how many minutes pass between the beginning of one contraction, and the beginning of the next contraction. The middle number represents how long the contraction lasts for. The last number represents how many hours you’ve been in this contraction pattern. So, 5-1-1 = contractions coming every five minutes, lasting for a full minute, and you’re in this contraction pattern for a full hour.

It’s important to consider how far you live from the hospital/birth center (or how far the midwife lives from your home) when deciding on the best timing for contractions. If you live 45 minutes from the birth center and rush hour is imminent, then it might make sense to stay closer to 5-1-1. If the hospital is a mile from your house, then 3-1-1 may help you not arrive too early.

If contractions are moving closer together very quickly, then it will be important to have your birth provider by your side sooner rather than later. If you’re experiencing a slower buildup of intensity and frequency, then you likely have more time to stay in the comfort and privacy of your home.

Always listen to your gut about the best timing for going to your final birth space or calling your midwife. Your intuition is stronger than a contraction timer app. Be sure to discuss the timing of your arrival/their arrival with your birth attendant, as they may have suggestions that reflect your unique history, health, and body.


2. Labor Land

As the baby moves through the pelvis, birthing people reflexively and instinctively tend to go into an altered mind space. As they drift into slower brain waves that help them not feel pain as intensely and lose track of time, birthing people can become less communicative, turning their attention inward.

You can help protect this primitive mind space by helping the birthing parent maintain privacy, offering warm nurturing touch, and avoiding pulling them into their thinking brain with a lot of talking and questions.


3. Loss of Modesty

Along with moving into the more intuitive mind of Labor Land comes less concern about modesty and the opinions of others. We often see more and more clothes come off as labor progresses, and less concern about hair, make up, and clothes – if they’re still wearing any!


4. Finding a Rhythm

Birthing people often find their way into a rhythmic movement, or repetitive phrase or mantra that helps them cope with the intensity of contractions. These spontaneous words and movements help promote the flow of oxytocin and endorphins…encouraging the labor to continue progressing, and helping the mind and body deal with the pain. The rhythm and ritual of labor cannot be planned out ahead of time, but rather comes up naturally in the moment. Watching for this signpost can help you get a sense of when the laboring parent is getting into active labor.


When deciding on the best time to get to your birth center or hospital, or ask your homebirth midwife to come to your house, take a broad look at how part or all of these signposts are coming together. Some people have contractions three minutes apart in early labor, and some people never space out and go to Labor Land. By taking in the broader picture of how the labor is unfolding, you won’t be reliant on just one signpost (like timing contractions) to make sense of your labor pattern.




Leave a Comment