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411 Contractions Rule

The 411 contractions rule is an easy way to know when to go to the hospital. – when each contraction is 4 minutes apart, 1 minute long, and has been going on for 1 hour.

Counting Labor Contractions

The correct way to time labor contractions is from the start of one contraction to the start of the next contraction. The incorrect way to time labor contractions is from the end of one contraction to the start of the next contraction. Many parents go to the hospital after their labor progresses to 411 contractions – 4 minutes apart, 1 minute long, and has been going on for 1 hour.

African American family timing 511 and 411 labor contractions at home

Real Contractions vs Braxton Hicks 

Braxton hicks contractions are real contractions, but not true labor, and are sometimes called false labor contractions. Braxton hicks contractions do not get longer, stronger, and closer together, but eventually fizzle out and go away. They’re more noticable in the second trimester, and can easily be confused with/caused by fetal movement. Braxton hicks contractions typically become more frequent as each week of pregnancy progresses.

Signs of Real Labor Contractions

Real labor contractions become longer, stronger, and closer together over time. Labor contractions radiate over the whole belly, but Braxton Hicks contractions may only tighten part of the belly. Real labor contractions don’t go away after hydrating with a glass of water, resting for an hour, or taking a shower. Real labor contractions actually become longer, stronger, and closer together, despite doing these things.

What Do Contractions Feel Like?

If I were to explain what contractions feel like to a guy that has never experienced menstrual cramps, this is what I would say. “Contractions feel similar to the abdominal cramping you get with bad diarrhea but rhythmically come and go, strengthening in intensity. Eventually, labor contractions become longer, closer together and more intense/painful than you thought possible.”

Early Labor Contractions

Early labor contractions are shorter, maybe 30 seconds long, and are further apart, around 5-7 minutes apart. These early labor contractions are typically easier to cope through, allowing parents to walk and talk through their contractions. The most important thing to do in early labor is to prioritize rest between contractions, hydrate, and nourish the body with healthy labor snacks.

Active Labor Symptoms

In active labor contractions become longer, stronger, and closer together. At this point, contractions are around 1 minute, and are maybe 3-5 minutes apart.

In early labor, parents are able to walk and talk throught their contractions, however, in active labor parents have to stop what they’re doing and use the coping strategies learned in pregnancy. In early labor, parents may feel excited to meet baby, or anxious wondering what labor will be like. In active labor, however, parents switch gears and become more focused on coping through each contractions, tuning out external distractions. 

411 Contractions Rule

Follow the 411 labor rule and go to the hospital when contractions progress to 4 minutes apart, each lasting 1 minute, and has been going on for 1 hour. Parents prefer the 411 labor rule because they probably won’t go to the hospital too early but then get sent home. 411 contractions are a sign that parents are in active labor and it’s time to go to the hospital.

511 Contractions Rule

Follow the 511 labor rule and go to the hospital when contractions are 5 minutes apart, each lasting 1 minute, and has been going on for 1 hour. Some parents prefer the 511 labor rule because they want to labor mostly at the hospital, or have interest in getting an epidural sooner rather than later, etc. 511 contractions can sometimes send parents to the hospital too early, however, and may be sent home. Early labor contractions can be around 5-7 minutes apart.

African American woman laboring at home with 411 contractions and sitting on bed.

When Will Hospital Admit You for Labor?

Hospitals will admit a woman for labor when she is in active labor and experiencing strong, regular contractions that are dilating the cervix. Hospitals will also admit a woman for labor when her water breaks, even if she’s not experiencing symptoms of labor. Once a woman is admitted to the hospital for labor she will continue to stay until she gives birth. 

511 or 411 Contractions

Parents wonder whether to use the 511 or 411 contractions rule. Is it better to go to the hospital when contractions are 5 minutes apart or 4? The answer to this question depends on you and your birth plan. When creating your birth plan, talk with your doctor or care provider about using the 411 contractions rule of thumb, 511, or something else. Consider the benefits of laboring at home before coming to the hospital for delivery and the drawbacks of arriving too early. 

Labor with a Doula

A doula is a wonderful way of helping parents labor at home as long as possible, but also feel relaxed knowing there is an expert present. Doulas knows when to go to the hosptial for birth (because nobody wants to have a car baby 🙂 ). Timing contractions is very important, but so is someone that can look for the subtle, more nuanced symptoms of a progressing labor.