The Right Dilation to Be When You Go to the Hospital

Doctor examining pregnant woman
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Question: Is there a right dilation to be when you go to the hospital?

A vaginal exam will be done when you get to the hospital to assess how far dilated you are, how open your cervix is at that time. A change in the cervix is often a measurement that is used to determine if you are indeed in labor. How far your cervix is dilated can vary widely from woman to woman at the start of labor. Some women find out that their cervix is dilated even before labor begins.

There are women who walk around a centimeter and a few women who walk around at 5 centimeters, so simply being dilated does not mean that you are in labor.

Answer: When you decide to go to the hospital in labor, you will be told how far dilated you are when you get to the hospital. Whether you decide to stay at the hospital or go back home to labor can depend on how far dilated you are, as well as other key factors in your labor and medical history.

So if for example, you are less than 3 centimeters when you get to the hospital and you're not in a lot of pain, you're not planning to use an epidural at all or early in labor, going home might be the reasonable and most comfortable decision for you. But if your water has broken, you are in a lot of pain or require special medical treatment, you may wish to stay at the hospital or be asked to stay by your practitioner. The big question is how much should be dilated to go into labor?

The answer is - there isn't one answer, it's more about where active labor starts, which is not 3 centimeters.​

Generally speaking, once you are past five centimeters and having regular contractions, many practitioners are fairly insistent that you stay at the hospital until your baby is born.

Should You Stay or Should You Go Home from the Hospital

Here are some things to consider when making the decision to stay at the hospital or go home:

  • How are you feeling?
  • How are your contractions coming along?
  • How is baby handling labor?
  • Is your bag of water intact? Broken?
  • Is there anything in your medical history that may mean that going to the hospital early is best for you?
  • Do you require antibiotics in labor?
  • Do you want to leave?
  • Do you want to stay?
  • How far away do you live from the hospital?
  • Do you have a doula?

Staying at the hospital prior to being in active labor has been shown to increase your risk of cesarean section. So it should be carefully considered that you you stay or go. Going home, even in early labor, will often have you feeling more comfortable and in your own surroundings. You can bathe, eat, drink, and sleep, all in the comfort of your own home.

There are some women who may not be a great candidate for going home in early labor. After answering all of these questions and talking it over with your family and practitioner, make a decision that is best for you.

Neal, J., et al., Outcomes of nulliparous women with spontaneous labor onset admitted to hospitals in preactive versus active labor. J Midwifery Womens Health, 2014. 59(1): p. 28-34.

Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Gabbe, S, Niebyl, J, Simpson, JL. Fifth Edition.

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