Owning Your Journey Through Early Labor
The beginning hours of early labor are a sacred time. It can be a beautiful, exhilarating, anxious, tedious, exciting and torturous journey all wrapped into one….
“Is this it?”
“WHEN will this pick up?”
“Oh, THAT'S a contraction? And it’s going to get WORSE?!”
Early labor can make you and your partner feel like crazy people with this swirl of emotions. Watching the clock and timing contractions can drive impatience, which can lead to heading to the hospital before labor has truly kicked in. Here are a few things you can focus on to help you cope until shit gets real (or until your Doula arrives).
Hopefully you've already packed your hospital bag, but there are a few things that can't be packed until it’s actual go time. Items including phone chargers, electronics, hospital registration papers, snacks, tooth brushes, etc. Make a short list ahead of time of what will need to be thrown in. Stick this list in your bag so that you can gather these items quickly, or so your partner and/or birth support team can gather them for you. Take out the trash so that you don't come home to smells and flies. Does the car have fuel? If labor is beginning at night and you're planning to rest, set a timer for 30 minutes. Get all of your logistics taken care of, then head to bed. Check off your to-do list so that you can rest, knowing you have the details covered.
Alert Your Birth Team
If it truly looks like labor is beginning, then it's time to alert the troops. Your Doctor or Midwife will likely give you verbal instructions about when to call them. Have these phone numbers entered into your phone and your partner's phone. You can also post them on the refrigerator. If you've hired a Doula, they often want to know early in the game that things are percolating. Doulas need to arrange their lives to be ready to jump in the car when you need support, so as much of a heads-up as you can provide is super helpful. Some of my clients will compose their “Out of Office” email ahead of time. Then when labor begins, they just activate it. Then they can relax knowing that work is taken care of.
Finally, think about who you would like to alert that you are entering into labor-land. It's best to alert people who will respect that labor takes time, who will not blow up your phone every half hour and who will not add strife to your day.
Many hospitals ask you to limit food-intake once admitted. So! Early labor is a fantastic time to get some nourishing calories in. You are about to embark in a marathon after all.
Planning mentally for the long haul, choose something mild and comforting. A healthy combination of carbs, fat, and protein should satisfy and provide you with the strength to ride the intense waves of labor.
Even if you have to force yourself – especially if labor begins at night, but even if your labor begins during the day. The average first time mother labors for up 24 hours. Front-loading that rest while you still can is HUGE. Nothing can zap your reserves and coping like exhaustion. Even resting between the contractions, if possible, can conserve energy for active labor. It's also really important for your partner to rest during early labor, as well. As much as possible, allow him/her to sleep.
Distraction is Everything
Sitting there…. timing your contractions. Over analyzing the contraction pattern with your partner. Calling your Doula over so she can stare at you. This isn't so conducive to progress. Labor can be very shy in the beginning. The feeling of being observed slows oxytocin production. It can also make the laboring person feel like a show pony. So plan for some ways to be distracted.
If sleep isn't possible, try a restive activity. Maybe set aside a couple of your favorite movies to watch. As a Birth Doula, if I arrive at a birth before it seems hot and heavy, I'll often suggest that we turn the TV on. It keeps the labor from being the focal point until it shifts into being the focal point. Some clients will plan for an early labor activity like baking cookies to bring to the staff at the hospital. Or a couple clients have baked birthday cakes through early labor. Or a meal to freeze. You can plan now for one or two activities that will keep you distracted from labor.
And when the cookies begin to burn, that's a great sign that early labor is moving into the more active phase. When the laboring person cannot be distracted any longer from their contractions and instead has to really focus and breathe through them, we have some clear evidence that it is time to head to the hospital.
“My baby is coming to meet me at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way. I got this”
Shut It Down
Sometimes early labor peters out. Sometimes early labor lasts more than 24 hours. As frustrating as it is, we simply cannot predict these things. When you are first experiencing contractions and/or bloody show, let's see if we can make this labor show its face.
By resting, taking a bath, having some warm tea, getting to bed, you are doing all you can to make the uterus relax. If a warm bath and drink space the contractions out or make them stop, then you can rest and be reassured that it wasn't the real deal. If a warm bath and some sleep only buy you a few hours of rest before the intensity increases, then you have managed to front-load your rest.
Often a client will call me at 9 or 10pm with some light contractions. His/her provider will have her take a bath, have a glass of water or sometimes even a glass of wine. She will settle into bed. If it's the real deal, I will get a second call at about 3am that the contractions are stronger, closer together and needing some help-can-you-come-over-now-I-need-you-please.
However, if they do all of those steps and my phone is quiet all night, then their labor will choose a different day. (There are always exceptions to every trend. I make no promises.) You can't shut down real labor. And there's no point losing sleep over false labor.
Let’s Be Real
Let's imagine you're 41 weeks pregnant. So done. You can't even.
And then you start to feel contractions at 8pm. What emotions do you think you're experiencing?
Yes, that. Excited, anxious, curious, nervous, exhilarated, panicked…
It's easy for me to suggest you take a nap, eat, and find some distraction. I'm sitting over here, very not pregnant. But I remember. It was a near impossible to quiet my racing mind. I remember googling “bloody show” at 11pm, calling my Mom, calling my Doctor, etc. Eventually, though, I was brought back to reality when I remembered the hard work ahead of me.
So make a plan now. Hire a Birth Doula. And acknowledge that these tasks are a great idea in theory, but the reality is they will take some planning and mindfulness, and support from your birth team. Cheers to owning the early stage of labor, you so got this!