Nobody wants to have a car baby. I’ve never read a birth plan that expressed the desire to go into labor, hop in the car, have a baby on the side of the road, and then drive to the hospital with baby in arms.
Parents don’t want car babies, nurses don’t, and neither do doctors or midwives. However, with these crazy car birth videos going viral on the internet, it makes sense that parents want to know how to get to the hospital without having a car baby.
Follow these instructions to help make sure your baby is born at the hospital and not on the side of the road!
Hollywood is not Reality
You’ve likely grown up watching women actors going into labor on tv or in the movies, which is always quite the dramatic experience (As it should be! It’s entertaining!). Maybe her water
breaks gushes and contractions immediately turn into transition contractions – long, strong, and very close together. In the movies it seems as if she barely makes it to the hospital in time!
While some women may experience this unique phenomenon, a precipitous birth, please know that it is actually quite uncommon. Labor generally progresses from first contraction to baby over a course of many, many hours – not just one.
My point here is that you’ll likely have plenty of time to get to the hospital to have your baby. Pregnant women are not ticking time bombs, waiting to shoot out babies at the most inopportune moments. The length of labor for a first time mom is around 15 (ish) hours.
But say you did have your baby in the car on the side of the road (highly unlikely). Babies born in cars are generally quite straightforward and easy deliveries. Does that ease some of your fears? No? Ok, read on.
Why Do Some Women Not Make It to the Hospital?
Ok, Lindsey, you say that women are not ticking time bombs waiting to shoot out babies at the most inopportune moments, so why do some women not make it to the hospital?
Here are some reasons women may not make it to the hospital in time to have their baby.
- Some women have a high pain tolerance which makes it difficult for them to gauge where they’re at in the stages of labor. Once they figure out where they’re at (transition and/or pushing) it may be too late to go anywhere.
- Other women’s labors progress very quickly in only a few hours. (We’ll talk more about precipitous births below.)
- Some women have a less painful labor, or dare I even say it, a pain-free birth. This can really make it difficult to know how to proceed!
- Other women want to labor at home as long as possible, but underestimate how exactly to do that.
- Sometimes parents live far away from a hospital or birthing center or sometimes get in bad traffic!
- Some women secretly don’t want to have their baby in the hospital but fail to verbalize this with their partner or other support people during their pregnancy.
- And then some women are in straight up denial, not fully accepting the reality of the situation. Often times these women are fearful of having another baby, the hospital, or even their care provider.
How to Get to the Hospital Without Having a Car Baby
The following are some great tips on how to get to the hospital without having a car baby.
Take a Good Class
The first layer of protection against having a car baby is to take a quality childbirth class. Be picky here as not all classes are the same! You’ll want to find a childbirth class that teaches effective pain coping practices, delves in deep about how labor progresses, how to cope through transition without an epidural, how to find a good doula, and so much more.
A good childbirth class is more than a tour and a video about how to get an epidural!
Once you know how to recognize the signs of labor including early labor, active labor, and transition, you’ll be better able to time heading to the hospital perfectly!
Hire a Doula
Next, when preventing the birth of a baby in the car, it’s helpful to have a doula on the birth team. Since doulas are familiar with labor progress, having an unbiased person present can be helpful when determining where a woman is in her birth experience.
For example, if labor suddenly decides to progress rapidly, a doula may be invaluable to help parents make the choice to stay home and call 911, rather than head to the hospital to see if they can make it in time. (In my opinion, a driveway birth is far better than a side-of-the-road car birth!)
The first thing to look at when determining when to go to the hospital is, of course, timing contractions. Contractions help determine where a woman is in the stages of labor. Parents should arrive at the hospital during the first stage of labor.
Some mothers aim to show up at the hospital when contractions are 4 minutes apart. Some mothers shoot for 5. And some mothers shoot for 3, but perhaps those women are the ones ending up with car babies. 😉
How far apart should contractions be before going to the hospital?
1) Time Between Contractions
The first thing you need to look for is how far apart the contractions are. Contractions are measured from the start of one to the start of the next.
2) Length of Contractions
Another aspect of contractions to look at is how long each contraction is lasting. In early labor, contractions average around 30 seconds. During active labor, they increase in length to around a minute. During transition, they may be even longer at 90 seconds.
When your contractions are around 4-5 minutes apart and lasting 60 seconds or longer it might be time to head in to the hospital.
3) Duration of Contractions
One last aspect of contractions to consider is how long a series of contractions has been taking place. If you have been having contractions 4 minutes apart, each one lasting a minute but this has only been going on for 20 minutes, you might need to time a few more contractions to make sure this is the real deal.
See if this pattern continues for an hour if you’re really not sure. If things are progressing, remaining intense and not going away for the last hour, you might want to head to the hospital!
Another way to successfully get to the hospital without having a car baby is to be 100% ready to go at a moment’s notice. When laboring at home, parents should not be packing a hospital bag, it should already be done.
Phone chargers, wallets, pillows, a towel to sit on, etc., should be in the car ready to go, while mom is laboring inside at home. If the decision to go to the hospital is made, everyone should be able to get in the car and go in just a couple of minutes.
Notice Mama’s Mood
Normally, during a solid active labor contraction a mom works hard at coping, breathing, etc., but between contractions she’s in a good mood, talkative and generally her normal self. However, when a laboring mom’s mood BETWEEN contractions changes, that’s when I start paying attention.
Here are some things to look for BETWEEN contractions that might signal it’s time to take the drive to the hospital:
- She closes her eyes and goes within, even when not having a contraction.
- Stops chatting with family, friends or the birth team even between contractions.
- Annoyed at the chatter of birth companions, even between contractions.
- Becomes irritable, agitated and easily annoyed even when experiencing a break between contractions.
If her contractions are close together AND her mood between contractions has shifted, it’s probably time to get to the hospital without having a car baby.
Notice Mama’s Pace
Another thing to notice when determining when to go to the hospital is how fast or slow the laboring mom is moving. In my experience, as a woman progresses through labor she moves increasingly slower.
I remember arriving at a doula client’s home to help determine if it was time to head to the hospital or not. My client was in the tub, laboring through her contractions. At one point she got out of the tub to head on over to her bed. It took her forever to get to her bed! I quickly realized that she was progressing and suggested heading to the hospital.
Just as I anticipated, it took her awhile to get dressed, downstairs and into the car. Thankfully, she made it to the hospital with perfect timing and wouldn’t you know it? She arrived in transition and soon pushed out her baby. Nailed it!
Know the Signs of Transition
Here is a list of symptoms or signs of transition. If you are experiencing these things, coupled with the signs listed above, it’s definitely time to get to the hospital without having a car baby.
(For help coping through transition without an epidural read this.)
- Long contractions lasting around 90 seconds (in comparison, the average active stage contraction is around 60 seconds)
- Contractions are getting closer together, around 2-3 minutes apart
- Instead of completely going away contractions sometimes “double peak”
- Because of all this ^ it feels like you’re not getting a break. You may hear yourself say, “I’m not getting a break.”
- Hot and sweaty
- Cold and shaky
- Can’t find a comfortable position
- Contractions increase when changing positions
- Afraid to change positions
- Looking for a way out
- Water breaking
- Discouragement and/or giving up
- Irrational thoughts and behavior
- Asking for pain medication
If you are wanting to labor at home as long as possible, but not have a car baby, please read this blog post!
Live Far Away? Rent a Room
If you live 45+ minutes away from your birthing destination, or traffic gets pretty heavy in your area, not making it to the hospital and having a baby on the side of the road may very well be one of your biggest fears about giving birth!
In these situations, many parents choose to spend the end of their pregnancy or early labor in a place 5-10 minutes from their birth place. Consider the following options when planning to get to the hospital without having a car baby.
- hotel room
- motel room
- friend or family’s home
Once labor has begun, simply head on over to your rental and settle in. When you’re ready, go to the hospital as if you were a local!
Consider a Homebirth
Of course, if you really want to decrease your chances of having a car baby, a safe solution for many healthy, low risk women is a homebirth. Since your care provider comes to you (it’s so wonderful!) there is less chance of not timing things “just so”. The care one receives through a homebirth midwife is so meticulous and personalized, for many parents that aspect in itself makes the choice a no-brainer!
“My water broke at midnight and we live 40 minutes away from the hospital. When my water broke I got up went to the bathroom, called my doula and midwife, and naturally they told me to rest and go back to sleep because my first labor was 17 hours long. I couldn’t rest because of adrenaline so I was packing the rest of my stuff. Within the hour, as my husband was about to take my older son to my parents, I told him we needed to go now! The baby was born in my minivan with my husband catching him, in the parking lot of the hospital at 2:01. Next time, I will most definitely have a home birth because now I know I can do it by myself.” Jessica N.
Recently, Seth Meyers’ wife gave birth in their apartment lobby, which admittedly, is better than the Uber they were about to jump in. However, I’m hoping that they consider a homebirth for their next as things seem to go so quickly for them!
A Note on Fast (Precipitous) Births
A precipitous birth is a birth that progresses so rapidly that from start to finish everything is under three hours. Most women who experience such births are not fans of this fast pace as it’s a shock to the system, gets everyone in a panic, and potentially changes birth plans (big time).
If precipitous birth runs in your family, it may be helpful to have a game plan in place in case the birth fairy decides to make things go quickly.
If you have a history of precipitous birth, it makes sense to plan as if this could happen again (it may not, just so you know, because birth likes to remain mysterious and unpredictable.).
TIP: If you think you are experiencing a precipitous birth and your water breaks, contact your care provider or go in immediately as birth may be imminent.
TIP: If you think you are experiencing a precipitous birth and can’t make it to the hospital, call your care provider and/or 911, and assume the open-knee-chest position. Sometimes that position can slow down the rapid decent of baby.
TIP: If you find yourself having a car birth, Mama Natural has some stellar tips for handling this type of birth shenanigan.
TIP: It never hurts to have some towels and chux pads in the trunk of your car. Many women even sit on one while they’re driving in the off chance that their water will break while driving. Stranger things have happened!
Listen to Your Gut
Before I wrap up this post about how to get to the hospital without having a car baby, it’s important to note how important it is to listen to your gut, inner knowing, intuition (or whatever you want to call it). Sometimes, you and your body know things that your care provider simply does not know. Your body is wise!
For example, say you’re having strong, long and close together contractions and you head into the hospital (you know, because you’re trying to avoid the whole car baby thing). Perhaps these contractions are even around 4 minutes apart. However, when you get checked your nurse tells you “you’re just a 3 (cm)” which is such a shock and disappointment! Instead of admitting you, you’re encouraged to go and labor a little bit more at home.
For some women, and you’ll know when this is you, this is terrible advice. Sometimes, your cervix does not mirror the wild, strong, close together and long contractions you’re having. Sometimes it just needs a little time to catch up. Remember, your vagina is not a crystal ball!
For those women who just know they’re further along than what their cervix says (even if it’s your first baby!), sometimes if they stick around in the area and do some more laboring on their own (without going home) their cervix catches up pretty quickly and baby is born sooner rather than later.
“Listening to my gut is what had me avoid a car birth! My midwife insisted I wasn’t in “active labour” at 7:30pm. I disagreed, but somewhat started to second guess myself (which I should have never done). I arrived at the hospital at 11:04pm and had my son at 11:19pm! Being through labour before I could gauge when things were REALLY happening. But as a first time mom, I still had the feeling – I was sent home with my first child at 3cms and had my daughter 5 hours later! Always trust your instincts.” Mandy M.
How to Get to the Hospital Without Having a Car Baby
When planning a hospital birth, consider the following when planning to get to the hospital without having a car baby!
- Take a Good Class
- Hire a Doula
- Be Ready
- Time Contractions
- Notice Mama’s Mood
- Notice Mama’s Pace
- Know the Signs of Transition
- Rent a Room
- Consider a Homebirth
- Know About Precipitous Birth
- Listen to Your Gut
Leave a Comment
Did you have an unplanned out-of-hospital birth? What do you know now that you didn’t before?
Leave a comment and tell us your story!
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Saturday 28th of March 2020
[…] how exactly does one labor at home as long as possible without having a “car baby”? How do you know when to go to the hospital? How far apart should contractions be before going to […]
Do I Need a Doula? | Mother Rising
Wednesday 30th of October 2019
[…] An experienced doula is pretty good at knowing when to stay, how far apart contractions should be before going to the hospital, and best of all, how to avoid having a car baby. […]
Friday 16th of August 2019
I had a car birth with my second son. It was a precipitous birth, so I had little to no warning. A full 18 hours earlier I had had mild contractions for a few hours but then everthing stopped. I now wonder if that's when I dialated, because later, my son crowned after about three contractions in the car! But like the author alluded, it was straightforward with no complications. I was pretty anxious about having an even quicker birth with absolutely no warning the next time, so I packed a emergency birthing kit and had it with me wherever I went from 36 weeks on. When I started having mild contractions with her, I immediately went to the hospital, where they tried to tell me to go back home. I knew she was going to be born sometime within the next 18 hours, and I decided that I wasn't leaving. They let me stay overnight and gave me a sleeping aid for anxiety. So I got a good nights sleep, and accepted Pitocin the next morning since the baby's heartrate was tachy. When things started, they really started, my husband yelled down the hallway for a nurse, she grabbed a random doctor in the hallway, they each put one glove on and caught my daughter 15 seconds after running in the room. She had her cord wrapped around her neck and wasn't breathing for a couple minutes, but recovered quickly. I was so, so glad I went to the hospital when I did and stayed at the hospital. Bottom line: listen to your gut. Like the author said, if they send you home but you think you should stick around, stay close to the hospital. I had my daughter on the exact date I knew I would. :)
Saturday 6th of July 2019
Car babies aren’t that bad! I’ve had one in a hospital and one in the car. I am going to have a home birth for the next but if I had to choose to repeat one of the other two births I would choose giving birth in my car again vs. my horrible hospital birth. My second baby came quickly. My water broke en route to hospital and less than 35 minutes later i was holding my babe in my arms. Just saying!
Saturday 6th of July 2019
haha love it! Glad you're having a home birth next time. Sounds like a wise choice. ;)
How Far Apart Should Contractions Be Before Going to Hospital?
Thursday 4th of April 2019
[…] how far apart should contractions be before going to the hospital. Dads want to know so they don’t accidentally have a car baby and moms want to make sure to get to the hospital in time for an epidural. (Care […]