At the end of a long road, there's nothing quite like the mix of emotions you experience when you realize you are actually in labor. This is happening! Yay!
Along with the excitement, you might grapple with feelings of anxiety, fear, disbelief, and a rush of energy. You might find you are asking yourself "What next?" and "Am I ready? What do I do?"
This is the moment you have been waiting for after all! But from the moment you experience your first consistent contractions to your baby's first breathe, there can be quite a lot of space in between. So let's dive deeper into this first part of labor and give you some ideas of what you can do to use this time wisely.
What is happening to my body??
- Now that you are probably full term and your body has released the hormones necessary to begin labor, you might experience a feeling of being "out of it" or maybe you are more tired and cranky than you have been.
- Some women get loose bowels during the body's preparation for labor.
- The tightening sensations you have probably been feeling in your belly are now feeling different- you can feel the tightening on the top of the belly and you feel your whole belly get hard to the touch. Maybe you experience a little bit more sensation in your low back now.
- You may lose your mucus plug, which looks a lot like a glob of snot! Not everyone loses their mucus plug all at once or even at all- some people experience small amounts of the mucus plug leaving the body in a stream throughout the day. Some people don't notice it at all.
These things that are happening in your body are some of the "signs of labor". You may experience some of them, all of them, or even none of them! (Every pregnancy is different) But for the things that you do experience, each of these is your body's brilliant way of bringing baby earth-side.
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In these early moments of labor your cervix has begun to shorten, and then it begins to dilate. Your body is working on this, maybe very subtly, in this first stage of labor, also known as Early Labor.
The stages of labor are: Early Labor, Active Labor, Transition, Pushing, Delivery, and Delivery of the Placenta.
In this first stage of labor, early labor, your contractions don't go away with rest or water anymore. The sensations are very manageable- maybe barely even noticeable, lasting about 30 seconds. You can walk and talk through each contraction and you have some time in between each one (somewhere around 5-8 minutes).
If you have a doula, this would be the time you would want to alert her of what is going on, but don't expect her to rush to your side just yet! She knows this is just the beginning~ she will probably begin to get her own ducks in a row and rest up for the coming adventure, which is what you should be doing too!
Okay, I'm pretty sure I'm in labor... now what?!
- If you can, this is the time to rest. Sometimes bringing your baby home is a long and exhausting road. You have a lot of work ahead of you, so if you are able to try to get some sleep.
- Sometimes sleep doesn't want to come, which is very understandable! There's a lot of excitement, and this first stage of labor can last a long time. So maybe you took a nap, but you would like to move now. Being on all-four's is a good way to get your baby in a good position for birth. Try cleaning the floors with a rag (seriously!) or you can do some cat-cow and gentle yoga.
- Put a nourishing soup in the crockpot. You can eat small amounts when you get hungry to keep you energized and fueled up, and leftovers will be wonderful for postpartum.
- Bake a birthday cake for your baby! This is one of my favorite ways to pass the time in early labor. Have your birth team pull it out to celebrate after the baby is born or surprise your nurses at the hospital.
- Get crafty with a knitting, painting or a needlepoint project to welcome baby with. An unfinished project can be nice for sleepless nights or quiet moments postpartum as well.
- Organize the baby's room or do a load of baby laundry.
- Journal out your feelings and write a letter to your baby.
- Distract yourself ~ the best way to ease the anticipation and anxiety of early labor is to simply go about your day and pretend that it isn't happening. The time is going to move verrryyyy slowly if all of your attention is hanging onto every contraction and twitch! Go out with a friend, take the dog for a walk, pick up the house... just take it slow. This isn't the time to use up too much energy and fuel because you will need it for later!
If you can prioritize one thing on this list, let it be rest!
Labor can last a very long time, and if avoiding an epidural is one of your goals then you want to be well-rested in preparation for what's to come. Many women ask for pain medication simply out of exhaustion.
Print out this list of ideas of things you can do during the early labor phase and hang it on the fridge as a reminder for when the time comes! If you are a doula or birth worker, print out a copy to give to your clients.
If you have any further questions on labor or what to do during early labor, leave them in the comments below!
(Stay tuned next Monday to learn more about what is happening in your body during active labor and some ideas on how to find the rythym that will carry you through.)