When you are in early labour, you may feel any number of the following emotions:
- All of the above at once!
Rest assured, they are all normal and common feelings.
It’s important that you to try to relax, rest and play any early labour signs down (unless you are concerned about your or your baby’s health) and maintain as much normality as possible. This is the beginning of what will likely be a long, exhausting and intense process. Especially for first time mothers, pre-labour can last for hours or even days, and I don’t know any marathon runners that starts off their race with a sprint. If they did, they wouldn’t finish the race – they’d burn out!
How Long Will Early Labour Last?
How long early labour lasts for varies between each woman and each individual pregnancy. This is due to many factors, including the position of the baby, hormone levels, how you choose to labour (upright/lying down) and more. Some women don’t even realise they are in early labour and are surprised to find they are progressing quicker than they thought.
For some women, early labour can continue for several days or more, and can become a frustrating and testing time. However it is important to keep yourself distracted in this instance. See if you can think of any emotional reasons why this may be happening. Sometimes it can be your own fears, not feeling ‘safe’ or comfortable or perhaps the people who are around you are making you feel uptight or stressed.
What Is Early Labour?
In early labour, the cervix moves to the anterior position, softens and effaces (thins) and begins to dilate. Early labour dilation is from 0 centimetres to 4 centimetres, after which time it becomes active labour. Some women will experience a mucus plug or ‘show’ (in whole or parts of it) coming away in early labour, as a result of the cervix moving and opening.
How Helpful Is Early Labour In Regards To Labour Progressing?
Early labour is definitely a very important part of the labour process, even if it feels like it’s taking forever and is resulting in nothing but stress for you! It’s easy to become disappointed when early labour doesn’t step up gears as quickly as we’d like, but your body is using this all-important early labour process as crucial preparation. This early preparation and dilation process is paving the way to reach 10 centimetres, which is when your baby will be ready to be born! Remind yourself that early labour contractions are your body working very hard, building up to stronger, longer contractions. So this is very little reason to feel disappointed!
Here are 8 tips and suggestions for early labour:
Early Labour Tip #1: Avoid Telling Family and Friends!
You’re probably already sick of people asking you if the baby has arrived yet (um, yeah we’d tell you!), so you can imagine how frustrating things could get if you tell them you are in early labour. Because it’s going to take some time before the baby is actually ready to be born, telling others that you are in labour only serves to heighten the anticipation and pressure. For some women, they start getting discouraging comments like, ’You’re still going?’ or, ‘Gees that’s a long time, shouldn’t they induce you / put you out of your misery by now?,’ which can result in you doubting your body or your ability to birth well. Worst case scenario, this can result in a mother succumbing to labour augmentations (same process as inductions, only labour has already started) and other interventions, to hurry labour along due to everyone else’s anticipation. The bad news for a mother is that inductions of labour significantly increase the risk of emergency caesarean section, especially for first time mothers. Read more about induction of labour here .
It’s important to remember that early labour is not officially established labour, and it can take days to get to that point. So if you can, avoid telling family and friends at least until labour is established (active labour which is 4-7cms) or wait until you have your beautiful baby in your arms. You don’t want your phone ringing like crazy in the middle of a serious contraction!
Early Labour Tip #2: Rest, Rest, Rest!
You may have heard that going for huge walks or swims in early labour is beneficial, but this is not ideal. You’ll only exhaust important energy stores that you’ll need further into your labour. Also pools and baths are not a good idea in early labour – the weightlessness works against gravity and can result in slower or stalled labour. This is one of the main reasons why if you are having a waterbirth, it’s a good idea to wait until 7 centimetres (which is the stage called ‘transition’) until you jump in the water. Another reason is because the pain relief is more noticeable when you are in stronger labour. If you do want to use water for pain relief, soak under the shower instead. However if the bath is calling you in active labour, you can always give it a try, and hop
out if you’re finding its slowing things down.
If your labour begins at night, try to sleep or rest as much as you can. Yes, it may be hard to sleep if you’re excited or if the contractions are catching your attention, but you’ll need as much rest as you can for the more demanding times in your labour. Depleting what energy you have now can lead you to feeling exhausted too early. This can lead to you opting for pain relief much sooner and requiring interventions if you don’t have the energy to go on or push your baby out.
Early Labour Tip #3: Start Some Projects You Have Been Meaning To Do
Early labour is a great time to have some distractions, especially in the form of projects you have been meaning to do. Write in your journal, scrapbooking, painting, file away photos or recipes, rearrange things you have been meaning to in a while. This way time will pass a little faster and you will have achieved something at a time when you might feel like you aren’t achieving much at all! Even though you most definitely are!
Early Labour Tip #4: Keep Eating and Drinking
Keep up your water levels to avoid dehydration, having regular toilet trips too, to make room for baby to come down. Food wise, you want to eat foods that are going to give you lasting energy, so carbs are a great option. Some women might say that they don’t like to eat prior to labour, out of concern they will only throw up, but it’s very important for your energy levels and for baby to eat in early labour. Some women will throw up regardless due to hormones – I’m sure most of us would rather throw up food than bile! Some women also like to eat spicy food or curries to hurry things along but be warned, if it normally gives you diarrhoea imagine what that might be like later in labour. Same with castor oil – often this causes diarrhoea for the pregnant mother.
BellyBelly’s Support Panel Midwife, Brenda Manning, suggests: “If you don’t think you will remember, ask your partner to remind you to drink at least 300mls of water every couple of hours to avoid dehydration, which can result in fatigue and a poorly functioning uterus. Eating and drinking during labour has been shown to reduce the total length of labour by as much as 90 minutes. Eat light, easily digested food.”
Early Labour Tip #5: Stay At Home As Long As Possible
Unless you are concerned, don’t feel safe or feel you cannot cope at home for much longer, staying home as long as you can will keep you off the clock in hospital. What I mean by this is as soon as you arrive in hospital, they will be keeping an eye on how long you have been in labour for and if you do not progress as fast as they would like (usually they are after around 1cm an hour which is not very generous) then you may sooner be offered inductions or other interventions to hurry things along. This may sound enticing, however any interventions that are introduced where there are no problems evident for mother and baby only offer more opportunity for even more intervention or complications as a result of the intervention. Check out our induction article here to read about whats involved once you are induced or augmented (labour stimulated or sped up).
Early Labour Tip #6: Make Sure Your Bags Are Packed And Ready To Go
This might be a silly one to mention, many mums have their bags packed well before their estimated due date. BellyBelly has an article What To Pack For Your Labour Bag which is worth a read – there are some tips from mums which you may not have already thought of.
Early Labour Tip #7: Keep Yourself Distracted
Hopefully you’ve planned some things to do in early labour prior to now; having a chat to your partner earlier so he can arrange some activities for you would be great! Perhaps you could hire your favourite movies, eat out at your favourite restaurant, have a massage, go out for a picnic, get your nails done – anything that will take your mind off things for a while is of great benefit in early labour. You could always chat to your friends on BellyBelly in the Forums !
Early Labour Tip #8: Don’t Feel Disappointed!
If your labour is taking longer to establish than you hoped, don’t feel disappointed! Your body is working very hard – and if its any consolation, some women find that when they have longer early labours, they have a shorter active labour. The early part of your labour is not in any way a sign of what is to come. The time it takes to get to active labour doesn’t mean that it will take that long to get to the next stage.
Remember, feeling anxiety or stress can slow or stall your labour – and that’s the last thing you want to do! Enjoy this very special time before your baby arrives – you’ve got a great big job ahead of you.
Last Updated: February 21, 2015