The first thing I do when I walk into a patient's room in the Labor and Delivery Department is ask, "What brought you here today?" Some people look at me like I'm crazy because they think the only reason you'd come to the hospital is for contractions. In fact, there are many reasons a pregnant woman might visit Labor and Delivery, and here are four of them:
- You have contractions: Contractions are the most obvious reason. However, many women aren't sure when it's time to head to the hospital. If you are preterm, or less than 37 weeks, you should go to Labor and Delivery if you are having 4-5 contractions an hour, which is only every 10-15 minutes. You should also go if you're having other signs of preterm labor, such as constant or intermittent lower abdominal pain or lower back pain, any kind of pressure, leaking of fluid, bleeding, or increased vaginal discharge associated with pain.
If you are full term, or over 37 weeks, it's time to go to Labor and Delivery once your contractions are 4-5 minutes apart. You increase your chances of staying at the hospital if your contractions have been going on at that rate for at least two hours.
- Your water breaks: When this happens, it's not always obvious. You may or may not be contracting when it happens. A woman's water will break spontaneously 10 percent of the time, meaning that usually it has to be done for you in the hospital.
When your water breaks, it will probably feel like you just peed your pants. This is totally normal! If you are at home and the fluid is clear, empty your bladder, put on a pad or a panty liner, and see what happens over the next 30 minutes. If you continue to leak, go to Labor and Delivery. If the fluid coming out is yellow-green, that means go right away...don't wait around to see what happens next.
- You experience vaginal bleeding: If this happens, definitely come in to be evaluated. A Labor and Delivery nurse or doctor will check out you and your baby and will determine what needs to be done next.
- You feel decreased fetal movement: The Labor and Delivery team are huge believers in a mother's intuition. If you don't feel your baby move as much as usual, get rid of all distractions, lay down on your side, and count movements. If you get 10 or less in two hours or are just concerned after one hour, come in.