Many couples feel unsure about when to go to the hospital. If your pregnancy is low risk, you will almost certainly be more comfortable at home at the start of labor and should wait until you're in active labor, when your contractions are regular, occurring every 5-10 minutes, and painful, before going to the hospital. At this stage, the hospital will want to assess how your baby is responding to strong contractions, and you may want some medication for pain. This needs to be administered in a setting where you can be monitored and, in the case of an epidural, can only be given in the hospital.
If your pregnancy is high risk, you have had a prior cesarean, have a breech baby, or carry the streptococcus B bacterium, call the maternity ward to discuss when to go to the hospital.
Once you're in active labor, a final reason to go to the hospital is to make sure your baby is born there. An unplanned home (or car) birth is not best for you or your baby. This is unusual in a first pregnancy, but with subsequent births women are more likely to arrive at the hospital quite dilated or to have an unintended home birth.
Getting to the hospital
Arrange for someone to drive you to the hospital, either your partner, or a friend or relative; don't consider driving yourself. Map the route ahead of time, consider a dry run before the big day, and have a bag packed with everything you will need for you and your baby (see Items for your hospital bag).
When you get to the hospital, you'll be checked in and will be put into a labor room if you look like you're in active labor, or into an assessment bed if this isn't clear. Usually you will be asked for a urine specimen, and a nurse will check your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure, check your cervix, and review your pregnancy history. If you're in early labor, you may be sent home. This doesn't mean you were unwise to come in; it's good to ensure all is well.
Once you've been admitted, you and your baby will be assessed by a doctor or nurse. Sometimes an intravenous (IV) line will be placed and blood tests may be done. You can make your room comfortable with items from home.