Raise your hand if (thanks to TV), you grew up thinking labor played out one
of two ways-
1. Labor goes from “oh wow! Maybe this is a contraction?!?” to “Grab the bags! Run for the hospital because baby is coming!”
2. Cue dramatic explosion of water on aisle 7 right between the croutons and ranch dressing. Once again, mad dashing it to the hospital because “baby is coming!”.
In both scenarios it seems as if it’s perfectly normal and common to go from first sign of labor to baby in an hour. Unfortunately, this isn’t reality. Does that mean that there aren’t people who have rapid labors? No. But for the vast majority of women, things usually take a bit longer than this and that’s normal. Once again, that is normal! The cervix goes through many changes throughout labor (see previous post here), so these things take time. Over the next couple of weeks I want to share some info and practical tips about the stages of labor. (Yes! There are stages! I had zero clue about this until my first pregnancy.) So let’s dive in this week and talk about the first and oftentimes longest phase- stage 1. Stage one is divided into three parts- early, active, and transition. This week, we’ll be discussing early labor- what is it, what’s normal, and tips for navigating those early phases so that you don’t arrive at your birth place too soon (only to be told “you aren’t quite there yet” and be sent home 😬). DISCLAIMER: I’ll be covering a very textbook overview of these stages. Please know that these stages can look different from woman to woman.
What is early labor?
Oh, early labor. If you’re thinking that because you're having contractions that baby is almost here (maybe…) but more than likely - no. Just go ahead and mentally prepare yourself for it to last a long time, and if it turns out to go faster than you thought, Y A Y ! Early labor is a lot of sitting (or bouncing, or resting, or walking) around your house wondering when things are going to get real. Give it time, momma. It will in fact - “get real”. For first time mothers, early labor can last up to 12 hours (this may vary for subsequent births) and the cervix is typically dilated less than six centimeters. Although this phase is often long and mild, A LOT is happening. In this phase, the cervix is beginning to move from a posterior position to anterior, it's beginning to soften and thin out, as well as beginning to slowly open. These are all necessary roles in order to birth your baby! So be patient, momma. Use this long, drawn out phase to rest and be thankful that you’ll be meeting your baby soonish.
What can you expect?
Physically speaking, early labor is often mild and manageable for most women. Contractions may be 10 minutes apart or less, lasting around 30-45 seconds long. Many women describe these contractions as feeling like a lower backache or mild menstrual cramps. Women are typically able to walk and talk through them. These sensations will continue to lengthen and strengthen throughout the course of labor. This is usually an exciting time for mom as she prepares to welcome her baby!
What to do?
One of the first things I always remind my clients about this phase of labor is - don’t pay much attention to it until you have to. If you want to time a few contractions out of curiosity, then go for it; but, it's certainly not something I would stress over in this early phase. So what can you do to pass the time? Here are my favorite tips to share with moms as they prepare for labor.
1. R E S T ! ! !
Yes, momma. Please get some rest. I know you’re excited and want to speed
things along, but remember - labor can be very long and tiring. If you can rest, DO IT. Save your energy for what is to come. But if you’re just determined to do something, I am a lover and a believer in the Miles Circuit. This is a 90 minute circuit and in my last pregnancy I found that I could stay in a “restful” state throughout the first two positions, so you could always go that route!
2. D I S T R A C T I O N
Don’t use up all of your mental energy on this phase. Think ahead and have some ideas ready for things that will keep you busy.
Be sure that you are staying well-hydrated. The uterus is a working muscle with lots of work to do in labor. Keep it hydrated. You also want to think ahead and plan to have lots of energy rich snacks on hand. (Side note- DO NOT eat anything that would be really awful coming back up later. As if there are levels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ throw up. But some foods are worse than others. Nausea and vomiting is common in the later stages of labor.)
4. S T A Y H O M E (as long as you can)
Remember those TV births we talked about early on? Yeah, those aren't super realistic. Unless there is some medically indicated reason for you to skedaddle to your local L&D while still in early labor, you are likely in the camp with most low-risk women who are perfectly fine to labor at home for a while. What’s the benefit of laboring at home? For a lot of women, being in the confines of an unfamiliar hospital room, with wires out the wazoo, and faces you've never seen before- relaxing and finding your rhythm can be hard. Especially if you’re planning for a natural birth, the longer you’re home, the better. I'll never forget my first OB telling me, “If you want to have this baby naturally - STAY HOME as long as you can. Once you’re here, it’s just normal for us to offer intervention eventually.”. In your own home you have the freedom to move about as you wish, use your own bathroom, feel the freedom to make all of the weird noises you want. Most women are more relaxed at home. That being said, I’ve also worked with some women who wanted to be there early on. To them being in their “birth space” was more relaxing. If that’s you, that works too! Remember, this process looks different for lots of women.
5. LET IT GO!
So maybe this is taking much longer than you thought it would. You knew it was possible, but now that you’re in it, you feel defeated by this snail pace. Remember, this is the longest phase. Stay strong, momma. You CAN and you WILL do this. You already are! Let all that anxiety and stress about time fade away and hold nothing back while letting your body do it’s thing. Focus on the first four tips mentioned. Rely heavily on your partner, doula, or friends for encouragement. Listen to your body and find what works for you. Keep calm and labor on. YOU’VE GOT THIS!
Stay tuned for the next post in the Stages of Labor series!