When Labor Begins FAQ

Are you wondering when to contact us during labor?

Please visit our page about what to do when labor begins.

How will I know when I’m in labor?

For most women, labor begins with regular uterine contractions. These contractions may be associated with pressure in the lower abdomen or may be downright painful, like severe menstrual cramps. Labor consists of regular uterine contractions which get more intense and closer together as time passes. When contractions are occurring regularly every 3-5 minutes and you can no longer comfortably speak during contractions, you should call our OB-GYN practice in Queens and Long Island. Keep in mind that you may have several hours of mild labor pains at home before you get to this point.

Many women will have “Braxton-Hicks” contractions in the weeks before true labor occurs. Braxton-Hicks contractions are typically irregular and not painful. During these “false labor” contractions, you may be able to feel the muscle of the uterus tightening while resting your hands on your belly. These mild, irregular contractions can go on for weeks. Think of this as the uterus “warming up” for the big day.

For some women, labor begins with rupture of the membranes. When this occurs, most women notice a significant gush of fluid out of the vagina. If you think you are leaking fluid, you should let us know immediately.

Pregnant women often worry that they will not know when they are in labor. Generally, contractions which are sufficiently strong to dilate the cervix will be quite noticeable, because they are painful. You shouldn’t worry about the baby just “falling out.” You’ll know.

How long does labor last?

For first babies, labor typically takes 12 to 24 hours. More than half of this time is typically spent at home in early labor, with relatively mild contractions increasing in frequency. Women typically spend just a few hours in “active” labor, huffing and puffing like in the movies. In general, labor takes more time with the first baby than with subsequent babies.

Keep in mind that labor can sometimes progress more quickly, and occasionally can take much longer. If your contractions are particularly intense, or you’ve had a history of very fast labor with a previous child, you should let us know.

What should I do when contractions start?

If you are within 3 weeks of your due date, you can generally relax at home during early labor unless we instruct you otherwise. If your contractions are occurring more than 5 minutes apart or are irregular, you’ll have time to relax in a warm shower, or to walk at home.

Of course, there are special circumstances in which we would want to know even if you are in early labor. If you are more than 4 weeks away from your due date, you should call us with any regular contractions occurring more than 6 times per hour. You should also contact us with regular contractions if you’ve had prior uterine surgery (cesarean section or removal of fibroids). If you have significant bleeding (enough to saturate a pad) in early labor, we would also want to know. Also, if your water breaks (see below) we’d like to hear from you.

What should I do if my water breaks?

If you notice a substantial gush of fluid out of the vagina, you should call us. Generally, we bring women into the hospital if we suspect that you’ve ruptured your membranes, even if you are not having contractions. If you have a gush or you feel constantly wet, you should call us.

What should I do if I lose my mucous plug?

Most women will pass a gooey mucous plug a few days before labor begins, or in early labor. This occurs normally as the cervix (the mouth of the uterus) begins to dilate. Usually, passing the mucous plug means that labor is coming soon, or already underway. No special action is necessary.

What should I do in early labor?

If your pregnancy has been uncomplicated, we encourage you to stay home in early labor: You’ll be more comfortable in your own surroundings than in the hospital attached to monitors. When contractions are regular, painful and less than 5 minutes apart, it’s usually time to head to the hospital.

Many women feel most comfortable walking in early labor. Walking also may help labor progress, by helping baby’s head to descend into the birth canal. We also recommend a long, warm shower to relax in early labor.

If you’re hungry, you can eat lightly in early labor, but you should avoid large meals, since nausea and vomiting are common as labor progresses.

What should I bring to the hospital?

Here’s a basic list of items that you may find helpful (see our printable Hospital Bag Checklist for more ideas):

  • Photo ID (e.g., your driver’s license)
  • Insurance card
  • Pajamas or nightgown
  • Maternity underwear
  • Slippers
  • Socks
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, brush/comb and other toiletries
  • Something to read/watch
  • A few dollars in cash and a credit card
  • Cellphone & charger
  • Some light snacks
  • Baby naming book (if you haven’t decided!)
  • Baby care book
  • An outfit for when you go home

Be sure to purchase and install a car seat in advance so that you’ll be able to drive your baby home safely.

How do I contact the physician on call?

Our practice always has a physician on call for emergencies. You can reach the physician on call by calling the office during regular business hours. After hours, you can have the on-call physician paged by calling the answering service directly at 516.692.3738.

Occasionally, the physician on call may not be able to respond to your call immediately. If you don’t hear back within 30 minutes of your call, you should call back and ask the answering service to re-page the physician. Keep in mind that your phone must be set to accept incoming calls from blocked numbers in order for us to call you back.

Please be sure to contact us before leaving for the hospital.

Where is the hospital located?

We deliver at the Katz Women’s Hospital of Northwell health, formerly known as Long Island Jewish Medical Center. The hospital is located at the Queens/Nassau border, south of the Long Island Expressway and Grand Central Parkway. The address is:

Katz Women’s Hospital
270-05 76th Avenue
New Hyde Park, NY 11040

You can get directions to the hospital by clicking the following button:
Print out directions to the hospital