I’ve always been fascinated with labor, even long before I decided to have kids. I thought it was amazing that with all our technology, no one can still accurately predict when labor will happen.
It’s different for every woman.
And it’s different from one pregnancy to the next.
But there are signs to look for, especially in the last 24 hours, which I’ve written about. And there’s a handy little rule known as the 5-1-1 rule that could help you time your arrival at the hospital a bit better.
Whether you deliver the way nature intended or plan a c-section, having the 4-1-1 on the 5-1-1 contractions can greatly assist late in your pregnancy.
After all, you’re about to feel weird, especially when the baby drops into position.
What is the 511 rule?
In short, it means:
5 – your contractions are happening every 5 minutes (or even more frequently than that)
1 – every contraction lasts at least 1 minute (or even longer)
1 – this has been a consistent theme for at least 1 hour
I’ll explain a bit more about this further down, but I want to cover more on Braxton Hicks and false labor first.
How do I know if it’s Braxton Hicks or not?
Late in your pregnancy, it is definitely tricky to know when it’s time to go to the hospital. As mentioned, you’ll likely start feeling slightly odd as you get closer to your due date.
You will undoubtedly feel more pressure and discomfort as the baby drops down and gets into position. And you may even feel contractions, though they may not mean it’s real labor yet.
Your cervix will start opening up when you are ready to have that baby. This can take some time, as usually is the case for many women. But for others, it can be quick.
I’ve said it so many times, but it warrants a repeat…we are all different, and each of our pregnancies is different.
However, long before delivery, you will likely feel a tightening in your uterus. This is Braxton Hicks, and I’ve written about this before, so check it out.
Long story short, they are merely like a dress rehearsal for your body. But these contractions stand out because they happen less than 4 times per hour and are irregular. They never get stronger or more intense; usually, they stop if you get up and move around.
If you’ve been a bit more active than usual, you may also set off these false contractions. While it may be alarming to feel contractions, the real ones usually start in the back and wrap around your entire abdomen.
What is real labor like?
I get it that it’s confusing, for even moms who’ve been down this road before have mistaken Braxton Hicks for labor. Still, you will know when these things get stronger and closer together. They won’t go away either; they’ll just keep coming at you.
Additionally, you’ll know if you see that bloody show or your water starts trickling out. But if you know the 5-1-1 rule, you can help figure out if you need to grab that hospital bag and make a beeline out the door or if you can put up your feet and relax for a while.
The main sign of labor is something you can’t know yourself. The cervix, which sits at the opening of your uterus, will thin out and then open up. This is impossible for you to detect yourself. Your doctor will be checking for that when you arrive at the hospital.
But before you go to the hospital, pay attention to the time on the clock. If those contractions are coming every 5 minutes or even more often than that, each one lasts a minute or longer, and this has been consistent for an hour at least; it is time to get out the door.
When I had Braxton Hicks with my daughters, I knew it wasn’t real labor because I could move around, and it went away. With my eldest, I knew I had to go to the hospital because my water broke all over the place.
But with my youngest, I remember feeling a cramp-like feeling. You know, like what you get with a bad period.
I happened to glance at the clock from bed. I rolled over and dozed off again.
15 minutes later, there it was again. Another 15 minutes, another contraction. I had 4 in one hour. I knew right then I was going into labor with my youngest, even though my c-section was scheduled for about a week and a half later.
As it was late at night, I knew I’d just be uncomfortable at the hospital, so I tried to rest. I told my husband in the morning, and my contractions were much closer together at that point.
Knowing this rule and seeing the timing of these things helped me to get to the hospital on time, even with the morning rush hour traffic. That was a fun one, I tell you, howling in pain the whole way there. But because I’d watched the clock, I made it in plenty of time.
When should I go to the hospital?
If you meet the 5-1-1- rule, you must go to the hospital.
But if something feels wrong, don’t wait to count it out. If you don’t feel your baby moving at any time during your pregnancy, GO.
Bleeding from your vagina? GO.
And if you have sudden swelling, vision changes, a nasty headache, and are struggling to breathe, you must go to the hospital immediately.
What if it was false labor all along?
It is always better to err on the side of caution. If you rush to the hospital because you think you’re in labor, but you’re not, no one is going to judge you. They see this all the time.
But with the 5-1-1 rule in your mind, you’ll likely avoid that from happening and properly time your arrival at the hospital.
For those of you with a planned c-section, you may not even need to use this little test to find out if you’re in labor. However, keep it in mind because I had planned my c-section for my youngest. She just didn’t want to wait that long to come out.
And, as always, have that hospital bag ready to go. That will be one less thing to worry about!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.