Especially for first-time mamas, who have never surfed the waves of labor before, knowing just the "right" time to head to their birth place can be understandably daunting. But, even a second or third time mama can have her doubts: Will I get there too early? Will I get there too late? In fact, many families tell me that one of the main reasons they hired a doula is to have someone to act as their guide in moments such as these.
So, what do I tell women and their partners when they ask? Well, a few things:
1) Research shows that women with no pregnancy complications have their best birth when they labor at home for as long as possible. They are able to move, rest peacefully, eat and drink at-will, and pass the time more comfortably. They run into fewer medical interventions and generally have a more positive birth experience. Because the "early" or "latent" phase of labor can last for hours or days, and can be well-managed at home, your best bet is to stay there. Once you arrive at the hospital, if it is determined that labor has begun, you will likely be admitted and may be disappointed that you are not as far progressed as you believed you were. You will need your mental strength for the duration of your labor!
2) You will know when it is time. Mamas sometimes look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them this - But, hey, I trust birth. I trust a woman's instincts and her body's ability to tell her when it is really time to move to wherever she will be bringing her baby into the world.
3) I will help you. As a doula, part of my job is to consult with you and help you determine when it makes the most sense to move to your place of birth. I provide all clients with a "When Do I Call My Doula" guide sheet. Sometimes it's just the way you sound over the phone. Sometimes it is a pattern of labor that has set in. Sometimes it's just my gut. It is always, however, ultimately up to you. This is your birth!
Happy Birthing! And remember, only trust - no fear!