Scenario: You're between 39-41 weeks pregnant. After some cramping and "I think that could have been my mucous plug" earlier in the day, you start having somewhat regular and noticeable contractions. While the contractions aren't yet the kind you can't talk through, they make you pay attention and wonder, "Could this be the beginning of labor?"
In early labor, contractions begin to follow a pattern and can be anywhere from 6-20 minutes apart. If labor continues and progresses, contractions will get longer, stronger, and closer together. Early labor, even when contractions are following a consistent pattern, can be one of the longest phases of labor. It's important to know this so you can arrive prepared to cope. Often, early labor becomes a mental and emotional game. It's easy to become impatient and frustrated. The following list will get you started with some ideas to deal with the early phase of labor.
What to Do When You're in Early Labor
Ignore it. Impossible as it may seem, your best bet is to ignore what's going on for as long as possible and go about your day. Sure, you can make a few notes about times and length of contractions, but don't get too wrapped up. If you're still able to go about doing fairly normal things, do them. Your body will tell you -- loud and clearly -- when it's time to change what you're doing.
Rest. Rest. Rest. If you can move past the excitement of being in early labor, use this time to rest. Even if you can't sleep, lay down. If you can't eat much, snack. And remember to hydrate! Labor and birth is hard work--you will need your energy for what lay ahead.
Time some contractions, then stop. You could spend a lot of time and energy timing contractions. And while the process is sometimes encouraging and reassuring, it can also be anxious and uncertain. If it helps you, time some of your contractions. If things aren't changing, take a break and do something else. Like rest, eat, drink, watch a movie, etc.
Find distractions. Early labor is a great time to watch a movie, meet up with/call a friend, read a book, fold baby clothes, or pack your hospital bag. Anything you can do to get your mind off of labor and pass the time.
Eat and drink normally. In early labor, you will most likely still feel like eating. Take advantage of your appetite. Later in labor, you will most likely not feel like eating (or at least not very much), but you will still need energy. Eating well earlier will help carry you for the long haul. Remember to stay hydrated; water is ideal.
Take a bath. A warm bath can be relaxing and soothing. If you're feeling anxious, take a bath. Keep in mind that a bath can slow down or stop early labor contractions. That said, when you're out of the tub, if your body is ready for labor, the contractions will pick back up.
Ask for help. It's never too early to start using comfort measures in labor. Ask your partner, friend, or family member massage your back or feet. Not only does touch usually feel great in early labor, it can also help take your mind off of worrying about labor, and encourages relaxation, which ultimately facilitates the process of labor.
Consider staying home. If your place of birth is at a hospital or birth center, consider staying home as long as possible while in early labor. Laboring at home allows you the freedoms and comforts that your own surroundings provide. If you arrive to your place of birth too early in labor, you may be sent home. If you are admitted, you may experience unnecessary interventions due to hospital policies and routines. If you're worried about being too far from your place of birth but don't yet want to be admitted, find a place to labor that's closer to the hospital, like the hospital lobby or a nearby store or restaurant.
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