What to Do in Early Labor
How will I know when I'm in labor?
We’ve all seen it in the movies: the pregnant lady is walking in her kitchen then she gasps and grabs her rounded tummy and moans. Everyone around her scrambles as she yells, “the baby is coming!!!!” The scene is tense and chaotic while the pregnant lady moans and yells and cries as she is rushed to the hospital by her worried partner. As a childbirth professional, I hate that scene. Like really hate it. Labor pretty much never starts like that. Ever. Even for those rare, really fast 2nd and 3rd babies, it’s still is hardly ever that… err.. dramatic.
But it’s exactly what most of us expect, at least on some level. So what is it like? Slow and generally unclear. It starts with a lot of maybes and the maybes add up and drag on until it becomes clear and we’re pretty focused. In a word, the beginning of labor is murky. Such an unsatisfying answer, isn’t it?
What is labor really like?
So what can you do with that unsatisfying answer? First, understand that the last weeks of pregnancy are a special time- an in-between. Time seems to expand and drag on. Sometimes interminably. But it’s a special time even a sacred time, this in-between. One that we tend not to appreciate as much as we could. This is the ending of what has been and the beginning of what is coming, a time of cocooning and welcoming. A time of opening. My clients who struggle the most with this tend to spend their last weeks holding their breath, balancing on a knife’s edge and asking themselves “is it now? What about now? Was that a “real” contraction?” By the time we get to labor they are worn out!
What do you do when early labor seems to last forever?
The best coping method is to just keep doing life. It’s really that simple. Labor will not pass you by (a precipitous or really fast labor is defined as under 3 hours- ask around how many people do you know that had their babies in under three hours? And if it were to happen to you, and things are rapidly getting longer, stronger and closer together, do you think you will miss it? I’ve experienced those labors. I’ve witnessed those labors. You will notice). If you are not certain that labor is starting, then you can just keep doing life. If you feel too tense to keep doing life easily, then pile up the distractions. That’s what those last minute nesting projects are really about- distraction. Spend some time preparing meals for the freezer to feed your family (or yourself) after baby comes.
What is Prodromal Labor?
It’s also helpful to know that prodromal labor (sometimes called pre-labor) is very, very normal. Prodromal labor is what I call the fits-and-starts phase. Sort of like a warm-up for the big day. It’s a bit tricky because you can even feel patterns of contractions, maybe for days before your body tips into early labor. The one way you will know that early labor has begun is that your contractions will get longer, stronger and closer together. In early labor, you might see some streaks of blood when you wipe (but not as likely with prodromal labor). You will eventually have to focus on every contraction and you will want to shut the rest of your world out. If contractions are not getting longer, stronger and closer together, then it’s probably not early labor and you can just do life.
What to do while you're STILL waiting...
Recognizing the last weeks of pregnancy as a special, distinct time that is both a beginning and an ending is going to help you cope with the waiting. What can you do to honor the way things have been as you prepare to welcome the changes coming? How can you celebrate what has been, the ending part of this time? Can you make a special date with your partner before meeting your first baby, get a hotel for the night and do it up big? Or maybe just go to your favorite restaurant? Can you spend some time celebrating your first born child before they have to share your attention with a sibling? I like to encourage my clients to plan something extra-special for every week until week 42 (remember being post-dates is not the same as post-term). And make your due date a special celebration. Your odds of having a baby that day are pretty low but even knowing that, watching the sun set that day without holding a baby is always a bummer. Maybe that day should be a spa day if you can swing it!
When Early Labor is Painful
While it's not uncommon for early labor to drag or even feel uncomfortable, it truly shouldn't be painful. If you are experiencing intense discomfort and unusually long early labor symptoms, it may be a sign that your baby is in a position making it difficult for him or her to descend into the pelvis for a smooth birthing. Consider some targeted labor techniques to make room in the right places for baby to move into a more optimal position and help move your labor along .
Labor is ultimately about letting go and giving in. Letting go of our expectations and plans, giving in to our body. Letting go of our thinking brain and giving in to our primal brain. Sinking in and embracing the process. The last weeks of pregnancy, including prodromal labor, are also about sinking in and letting go, priming your mind and body for both labor and the transition into life with this child. Embrace the in-between.
Written by Sylwinn Tudor, CD(toLabor), CYBE, Rebozo certified, CLC
Sylwinn offers Birth & Postpartum Doula Services, Lactation support, Your Birth Experience Childbirth & Postpartum Classes at MamaWise Birth in St. Louis, MO.