When to Go to the Hospital if You’re in Labor?

Leaking fluid and thick discharge through the genitals, along with regular contractions, are factors that often indicate the onset of labor.
When to Go to the Hospital if You’re in Labor?

Last update: 05 May, 2021

Are you approaching the end of your pregnancy and wondering when to go to the hospital? This is natural, especially for new mothers. However, the onset of labor is usually quite obvious, so as soon as you feel any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, you should go to your doctor.

It goes without saying that if you experience an abnormal situation — heavy bleeding, no movement of the baby for a long time or fever — you should go to a health care facility as soon as possible.

The functioning of the human body just before delivery

Pregnant woman happily thinking about her baby.

Even if it’s true that every woman’s body is different, we often wonder what the difference is between a woman who gave birth at 38 weeks and one who gave birth at 40 weeks.

Today this answer is still not very clear, and this may be because it’s actually a series of factors that trigger labor.

Hormonal and biochemical alterations are what can accelerate this event. They’re somewhat complex, but some of them are the following:

  • Progesterone concentrations, synthesized by both the ovaries and placenta, drop in the hours before labor.
  • Oxytocin levels increase, a substance capable of favoring uterine contractions.
  • Both the baby (usually called the “fetus” while in the uterus) and the placenta release some local substances that can trigger labor.

Interesting, isn’t it? However, nowadays doctors don’t known exactly why these hormonal changes happen at a certain time. It’s likely that the baby sends some “maturity” signals that trigger all these changes in an accelerated manner, which, in turn, warns you to go to the hospital.

Signs that you should go to the hospital because labor started

Don’t worry! When the process starts, you’ll most likely notice it yourself. The most typical symptoms of this event are the ones mentioned below.

1. Expulsion of the mucus plug

The cervix is the lowest part of this organ, in close relation to the vagina. A small canal runs inside it, which will gradually dilate to allow the future baby to come out.

During pregnancy this space is filled with a gelatinous substance that prevents the entry of microorganisms capable of affecting the development inside your uterus. One of the typical aspects of labor is the expulsion of this substance through the genitals.

Its color is between greenish and yellowish, and it’s usually accompanied by a thin trickle of blood. It’s a completely natural process and can occur in conjunction with the pain of the contractions. If you see it, it’s time to go to the hospital!

2. Real contractions

It’s very likely that during the second part of your pregnancy you’ve experienced “false” contractions, also called Braxton Hicks contractions. They don’t usually last long, and are irregular and painless.

Woman with contractions about to go to the hospital.

The actual contractions are very different: the pain is unique, the abdominal tension is maximal and the time between each one is regular. The duration of each event is 1 to 2 minutes, and this is more or less the same length of time that passes between each one.

This sensation lasts until the baby is born, so the contractions will remain constant throughout the time you decide to go to the hospital, which can be quite uncomfortable.

3. Expulsion of amniotic fluid

You probably know that inside the uterus the baby-to-be floats in a substance called amniotic fluid. This is expelled once the cervix has dilated sufficiently and the baby starts to come out.

This expulsion is usually obvious and occurs at the hospital just before delivery. If it occurs during the onset of contractions or with the expulsion of the mucus plug, it’s known as premature rupture of membranes and it’s necessary to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Why is this? The baby hasn’t yet come out and the fluid still needs to fulfil all its functions. In some cases, the obstetrician may induce delivery to avoid consequences, such as infections, which can become a big problem in a short time.

Best to have everything ready to go to the hospital!

Labor often gives no warning and can catch you off guard even in the weeks before the baby is due. In these circumstances, the hospital care that your child may require will be greater, so it’s best to be prepared.

As time is of the essence, we recommend that before the 37th week you have everything ready for an emergency. Your bag should contain your personal belongings and those of your baby-to-be. You don’t want to have to deal with all the preparations during full labor!

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  • Morgan-Ortiz F, et al. Anatomía y fisiología de la placenta y líquido amniótico. Rev Med UAS 2015;5(4):156-163.
  • Andina E. Trabajo de parto y parto normal. Guías de prácticas y procedimientos. Rev Hosp Mat Inf Ramón Sardá 2002;21(2):63-74.