This is such an excellent question, and one that every single pregnant person asks during our prenatal appointments. “How will I know I am not heading to the hospital too early? “
While there are no certainties in birth, there are a few key indicators that let us know that, if the couple is not intending to have a home birth, it is time to transfer to the birth center or hospital.
During the beginning of labour, most couples begin timing contractions. If using a watch, this is done by measuring from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next. However, we now have a plethora of amazing contraction timing apps that allow the user to time the distance between contractions as well as the length and intensity of each contraction. As labour progresses, we typically see contractions become longer, stronger and closer together. Your midwife or OB will inform you that once your contractions reach a pattern of 4-1-1 (meaning you have been having contractions for 1 hour, that are lasting one minute each and occur 4 minutes apart), it is time to leave for your birth place of choice.
Your birth doula may already be with you at this point and can help you by timing contractions and providing you with reassurance that it is, in fact, a good time to leave.
Keep in mind that there are some variables that might determine that you leave for your desired birth place sooner. For example, if you are considered high risk, if you are Group B Strep Positive, or if your water has been broken for quite some time, your doctor or midwife may request that you leave earlier.