As a doula, this is by far the most common question I am asked by my clients. It's right up there with questions like: How can I cope with the pain? and What are some ways my partner can support me?
When should we go to the hospital (or birth center)?
First, you hear all the stories and advice.
Your best friend who went in to the hospital, found out she was only 2cm dilated, and got sent home.
Or your husband's cousin who got to the hospital, labor stalled, and it took forever (and Pitocin) to get it going again.
Or your co-worker who arrived just as the baby was crowning and ended up delivering in the parking lot. You have most likely received well-meaning advice to "stay home as long as possible" or "get to the hospital where you can finally just let go". It seems everyone has a different opinion about when YOU should go based on their own personal experience.
You may have given this some though already. (Or not, that's ok, too!) You think you probably don't want to go too early and run the risk of getting sent home or having your labor stall. And I'm sure you also don't want to to stay home so long that you worry about delivering the baby in the bathtub! You want to know where the sweet spot is... and how you will know when it is time.
But here's the thing: birth is mysterious. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.
It is completely understandable, for first time parents to ask this question. You read books, talk to friends and family, take childbirth classes in order to make sense of a major life event which you have no context for. You may be piecing together bits and pieces of others' stories in order to make it more clear to you. In a world where information can be found at our fingertips with just a click or a swipe, we are being trained to look outside of ourselves for answers to some very important questions. We look for ways to control a very uncontrollable event.
Did I mention that birth is mysterious?
So, what's a new parent to do? Here are three things to consider when deciding when to head to your birth place.
Check in with your Doctor or Midwife
More than likely your care provider has their own policy of when they recommend you come in. Often they use the 5-1-1 rule: Contractions are FIVE minutes apart, lasting for ONE minute, and they've been that way for ONE hour. This can be a good rule of thumb, but it doesn't fit every mother, every birth, or every circumstance. It can be especially confusing for first-time moms who do not have a frame of reference for what normally progressing labor feels like. This is a good question to ask your birth attendant during a prenatal appointment. Then, when your labor begins, it is a good idea to let your them know so they have a heads- up and they can advise you from there.
Check in with your partner
It has been my experience that most partners are eager to get to the birth place. They are supportive of laboring at home, but there is often a threshold that, when crossed, they feel more comfortable at the hospital/birth center. This is VERY understandable. If you are a new dad, familiarize yourself with what a laboring woman may look and sound like as she gets into active labor. Take a childbirth class to learn ways you can help her cope with the sensations and intensity of labor. Take care of yourself by doing what you need to do prenatally to be comfortable with your loved one moving into active labor.
Finally, and most importantly:
Check in with yourself
The thing is, this is YOUR story. Leaving the comfort of your own home and making your way to your chosen place of birth is part of the woven tapestry of your birth. It must play out in it's own time. Gathering information from your care provider and chatting with your partner about their comfort level before labor begins can help to guide you. This is where you check in with your gut; with your instinct. Make sure you are not checking in from a place of fear, but from a place of curiosity and a loving, warrior spirit. Listen deeply. Connect with your baby. You will know.
As with any decision to be made during childbirth, you do your very best. You might get there too early; and you might get there in the nick of time; heck, you might not even make it. But you do your best. In the words of Virginia Bobro, co-author of the new Birthing from Within book, Ancient Map for Modern Birth: "Get information. Tune into your intuition. Make your best guess. Act. Keep moving forward".
In the comments let us know: How did you know when it was time to go?