When do you go to the hospital after labor begins?

Two weeks ago Laura gave birth to our first child, Mason West Kornstein. Everyone’s doing really well, and it’s been a blast so far.

As soon as Laura went into labor at 2:00 am early Thursday morning, she began tracking her contractions so that we could tell how things were progressing and decide when it was time to go to the hospital. By 8:00 am we were curious to better understand how quickly things would advance.

The doctor had told us to wait until contractions were five minutes apart for an hour before coming to the hospital. That was fairly straightforward guidance, but we had no clue whether that time would come in a few hours or a few days. And we didn’t know how to interpret the changing amount of time between her contractions, which in some cases would swing from 45 minutes down to 10 minutes then back up again.

Most sites I found weren’t very helpful. Forums and blogs generally had useless information such as, “everyone’s different.” I found some more informative sites that indicated early labor typically lasts 8-12 hours, but can be as long as a few days for some people. Better, but I still wanted to see some data, which turned out to be hard to find. It wasn’t clear what types of contraction trends we should be looking for as an indication that we were approaching the “5 minutes apart for an hour” threshold.

In the end, it turned out to be about 18 hours of early labor. After that point (and with a bit of math), she was clearly in the 5 minutes apart zone. We went to the hospital and were told that our timing was perfect. She was brought right to the delivery room.

At many points along the way we were tempted to go to the hospital early. Around the 13 hour mark, Laura had 7 contractions in a row that were between 6-10 minutes, and it seemed likely that we were just about there. Had we gone, we could have been sent home or asked to “walk around and wait”. We saw many couples in this boat.

So I thought I’d share the type of data I was looking for two weeks ago. With Laura’s permission, I exported the logs from her contraction app, and plotted the trends from our one anecdotal experience. Her exact words were, “So you’re graphing my pain? Yeah, I guess that’s fine (sigh).”

The chart begins with her first contraction, and goes until we arrived at the hospital, at which point it didn’t seem very useful to continue logging the data. Even though the interval between contractions varied quite a bit for the entire 18 hours, when you look at the ‘Previous 12 Contractions’ view, the moving average slowly declined down to the 5 minute threshold in a very predictable way. By the 16th hour, the trend was clear, giving us plenty of warning. Interestingly, the contractions started close together, got longer apart in the middle of early labor, then began to decline again, with the interval moving average peaking 10 hours after labor started.

Here’s what I put together:

Now back to changing diapers…

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