The most common question a birth professional gets (after "am I in labor?") is: When should I head to the hospital? In our culture, there is a huge fear of 'not making it' and having an accidental unassisted birth at home, in the car, or on the side of the road. It's also becoming more common for women to want to labor at home as long as possible to avoid being 'on the hospital clock.' So how do you know when to leave?
Basic rule to remember is: 5-1-1. When your contractions are 5 minutes apart, 1 minute in length, for 1 hour, you are definitely in active labor. If you head out earlier, the adrenaline and excitement of getting in the car, driving to the hospital, and going into triage can cause your labor to stall. This usually means they will send you home, but at some hospitals, they will admit you. If you are concerned about being 'on the clock,' this is definitely something you want to avoid.
As always, talk to your care provider about when they want you to call them and what their recommendations are for arriving at the hospital.