The onset of labor is a very exciting time for families. You have been waiting for months to meet your precious bundle and the end of your pregnancy is just around the corner. This is the moment you have been waiting nine long months for.
It’s common to experience a wide range of emotions. You feel joy that finally you will be able to meet your sweet baby. You are apprehensive of what labor and parenting may hold. You are somewhat relieved that you will finally be able to sleep on your stomach again. The list goes on and on.
The first question you may have is “is this even really labor?” This is a common question for most expectant parents. Especially those who have experienced weeks of Braxton Hicks contractions, or prelabor. The difference between labor contractions and warm up contractions is that labor contractions actually work to dialate your cervix. Warm up contractions are strengthening your uterus and preparing your cervix for the work ahead.
The simplest way to identify true labor contractions is to determine if they are following a regular pattern. Are they getting harder or stronger? Are they getting closer together? Are they increasing in length? If you believe this is the case, drink 2-3 large glasses of water, get in a comfortable position with your feet elevated, and begin timing contractions. If you have five or more contractions in an hour, these are most likely labor contraction.
If you are before 37 weeks gestation, or your provider has told you to notify them when labor begin, call your provider and let them know that you are having regular contractions. They may want you to come into their office or your birthing facility.
If you are at term, and have no other complicating factors, you may be able to labor at home. Talk to your care provider about this, but in most healthy pregnancies it is a great idea to stay at home until your contractions are five (or less) minutes apart, one minute long, and following this pattern for one hour. We call this the 5-1-1 rule.
If your water breaks at the onset of labor you will want to alert your provider immediately, noting the color of the amniotic fluid, the odor, the amount of amniotic fluid, and the time your water broke. Use the acronym COAT to remember (Color, Odor, Amount, Time). Based on this information your provider may want to see you sooner.
So what do you do during early labor until your contractions are five minutes apart. The answer sounds so simple, you just keep living. With all of the excitement of early labor this can be a bit tricky to manage so here are some simple tips to keep things moving forward.
If it is late at night when you notice that you are in early labor, try your best to stick to your regular night time routine. You will need to be well rested in labor. Your body has lots of work to do and you want to make sure you have enough energy. I once heard a doula say, “don’t worry. You won’t sleep through the birth of your baby!” Early labor can last for a few days, so plan on things taking a slow start. You can be pleasantly surprised if they move a little faster.
During early labor it is also important that you are eating healthy foods to fuel your body for active labor and birth. Make sure you are eating when you are hungry. As your contractions get closer together you may not want to eat typical meals, so make sure that your early labor meals are nutrient dense.
Along these same lines, you need to make sure that you stay hydrated. It’s a great idea to get in the habit of drinking some water after every contraction, just taking as much as your body craves. After some contractions you may find yourself drinking half a glass of water or at times just taking a sip, you will know what is right for you.
Movement is also a great tool in early labor. Taking a brisk walk will be invigorating, help shuffle your pelvis so baby can descend, and allow gravity to put pressure on your cervix to help labor progress. To conserve energy you may also want to try binge watching your favorite show on Netflix while rocking back and forth on a birth ball.
Aside from rest, nutrition, and movement, another great tool in early labor is distraction. Try to not think about (and especially not time) every contraction. You will likely be able to talk through early contractions and enjoy hearing or telling jokes for funny stories with your partner or support person. I often compare early labor to a pot of boiling water. The more you watch it the slower it will progress.
One way to distract yourself during early labor is to finish up any projects you may have before baby arrives. Perhaps you have been meaning to wash baby clothes that have been in storage from a friend or you wanted to reorganize your diaper station (or add a second one in your den). Now is a great time to get this done!
Another way to distract you during early labor could be to fix some easy freezer meals for when you get home from the hospital. I love the meal trains where friends and families volunteer to bring over dinner every couple of days the first few weeks after baby arrives, but it never hurts to have a few easy meals like soup or spaghetti sauce in the freezer just in case.
You may also want to pack a few snacks and meals to have while you are in the hospital. Good options include protein packed foods that do not require refrigeration and are low odor. During labor your support person will also need nourishment too, but high odor foods may make moms nauseated during labor. There could also be limits on refrigerator usage. Great ideas include protein bars or shakes, fruit, and nuts. Don’t forget about packing an extra water bottle too.
While you are in the kitchen consider having a dance party. This can help with positioning and increase endorphins. Many women find dancing to be a fun distraction that helps promote labor. Additionally, dancing with your partner can increase oxytocin (the hormone that causes contractions) and help speed labor along.
If bedtime rolls around and contractions are still not close together consider some relaxation methods to help you rest. Perhaps take a bath (not too hot) or have your partner give you a massage. Guided imagery can be really helpful in relaxing your body and mind. You may find it difficult to rest or you may drift off quickly. Even just being in a restful state will help you have more energy for active labor.
The thing to remember is that in early labor you should do activities that help you relax and distract yourself as best as you are able. Perhaps that means cooking or cleaning or perhaps going shopping is your best bet. Some people enjoy getting out of the house and find it helps to distract them further from their early contractions because they are attempting to downplay them while in public.
Do what is right for you, keep your labor support person close, and relax and enjoy the remainder of your pregnancy. At any point if you have concerns call your care provider. Every pregnancy and labor is different, do what feels right for you. To learn more check out a local childbirth class.