July 29, 2019
How to Support Someone Through Early Labor
By: Cara Terreri | 0 Comments
Early labor, technically known as the first phase in the first stage of labor, refers to the time when contractions start to organize and follow a pattern (ie, you're in labor) up until you reach "active labor," which begins at 6 cm of dilation (you won't know your dilation unless you have a cervical exam performed to check). If you're supporting someone through early labor, it helps first to know how to recognize early labor signs and symptoms. Typical early labor signs include:
- Mild contractions that may come and go before beginning to develop a pattern
- Contractions that make you pause, but usually mild enough to talk through
- Lower backache
- Increased vaginal discharge/mucous, as well as possible "bloody show" (blood tinged mucous)
- Restlessness or "nesting" behaviors
- Nausea or abdominal cramping or diarrhea
- Water breaking - only in 5% of people; sometimes water breaks without contractions
Ideally, prior to the start of early labor, you will have discussed a preferred plan for early labor. Of course, all plans are subject to change, especially when it comes to labor and birth, but it helps to know things like when to call the midwife or OB, when to go into the hospital/birth center, and what kinds of things to do during early labor while at home. Early labor is typically the longest phase of all of labor and birth so it make sense to come up with a flexible plan with ideas on what to do during that time. The simplest things can help pass the time, like watching a movie or taking a walk, or activities that help with comfort, like taking a bath, resting, or massage.
Talk to the person you're supporting about the kinds of things they might like for comfort or distraction in early labor. Everyone is different and reaches for different things when they are in distress, need comfort, or trying to focus. Some people want active, direct support from their person while others prefer solitude. Depending on their preferences, which could change as labor progresses, the following tips for support in early labor is a helpful go-to list.
Tips for Supporting Someone in Early Labor
- Take a good childbirth class - Obviously, this would take place way before labor begins! Attending a childbirth class is, hands-down, the best way to familiarize yourself with the ins-and-outs of labor, which help reduce your fear and confusion when the time actually comes. Childbirth classes prepares you with in-depth information and strategies to use on the big day.
- Help time contractions - There are many apps that do this for you. Timing contractions will help you to know whether contractions are getting longer, strong, and closer together - which is the primary sign for labor starting.
- Stay calm - Or get really good at faking it. If you are calm, you'll be able to help the laboring person feel reassured and calm, too.
- Call the care provider/OB/midwife and doula - Let your partner labor on while you call the care provider and doula if you have hired one to describe what's going on.
- Eating and drinking - Encourage eating and drinking. Do the same for you! You're likely at the beginning of a long haul -- it will be important for both of you to keep up your energy.
- Be courteous - This is a time to put your own needs and desires second. This means not cooking/eating anything particularly aromatic (no tuna salad or garlic bread, please); keeping the tv or music down low or off; and generally making sure the laboring person has what they need first.
- Suggest activities - Have at-the-ready some ideas for distraction, like a movie, a walk, a puzzle, a date out (that could end early, of course), a massage, visit to friends, etc.
- Communicate your availability - If you cannot be home, or must leave for a period of time, keep in close communication with the laboring person about your availability. If you must be gone, call in back-up support from your doula, a good friend, or a family member.
- Provide direct support through contractions - As contractions become more intense, more direct support may be needed, like breathing together, reminding the laboring person to release tension in face and shoulders, verbal encouragement, and back rub or similar comforting touch during the contractions (if desired -- some will not like this during contractions; be sure to check in and ask!).
Early labor, while not the most physically intense part of labor and birth, can be the most emotionally and mentally taxing simply because of the time it takes as well as the uncertainty over signs and decisions to make. You can boost your confidence for the early labor period by taking a good childbirth class together in the third trimester, as well as by enlisting the help and support of the OB or midwife, and a doula.