In early labor, the cervix softens and effaces (thins) and begins to dilate (open). This phase of labor can be the most daunting, not because of the intensity of contractions but simply its length.
However, early labor is definitely a very important part of the labor 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 labor doesn’t gear up as quickly as we’d like, but your body is using this all-important early labor process as crucial preparation. This early preparation and dilation process is paving the way to reach 10 centimeters and 100% effacement, which is when it gets to the part you have been waiting for - the birth of your baby!
So here are my top 5 tips to cope with early labor:
Tip #1: Avoid Telling Family and Friends! -- You are probably already sick of people asking you if the baby has arrived yet (uh, yeah, we would've told you!), so you can imagine how frustrating things could get if you tell them you are in early labor. Because it’s going to take some time before the baby is actually ready to be born, telling others that you are in labor only serves to heighten the anticipation and pressure.
Tip #2: Rest, Rest, Rest! -- This is the number one tip I mention over and over in all my classes, REST. Labor takes a lot of energy and you need to reserve it for when labor intensifies. Rest does not mean sleep; if you can sleep that is great, but some moms feel anxious and cannot fall asleep so instead lay down and watch a favorite movie/show or read a book/magazine. Your partners biggest, and hardest, job will be to tell you to go rest. Depleting what energy you have now can lead you to feeling exhausted too early. Wait on a bath until active or transitional labor; the weightlessness works against gravity and can result in slower or stalled labor. If you do want to use water for pain relief, soak under the shower instead.
Tip #3: Keep Yourself Distracted - Start a Simple Project or Finish Packing Your Labor Bag -- Plan some things now with your partner to keep you distracted, especially in the form of some simple projects you have been meaning to do. Bake a treat for your nurses or yourself when you return home, gets your nails done, go get a massage, write in your journal, scrapbooking, knitting, 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 are not achieving much at all (even though your body is doing a lot of work)! Plus this one is silly to mention, but double check your labor bag for any last minute items and throw it in the car. Just another thing to keep you distracted.
Tip #4: Eat and Drink Lightly -- Keep up your water levels to avoid dehydration, while visiting the bathroom often 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 (I'm a fan of Oatmeal). Some women might say that they don’t like to eat prior to labor, out of concern they will only throw up, but it’s very important for your energy levels and for baby to eat in early labor. Some women will throw up regardless due to hormones – I’m sure most of us would rather throw up food than bile! Yuck!
Tip #5: Don’t Feel Disappointed! -- If your labor is taking longer to establish than you hoped, don’t feel disappointed! Your body is working very hard – and if it’s any consolation, some women find that when they have longer early labors, they have a shorter active labor. The early part of your labor is not in any way a sign of what is to come. The time it takes to get to active labor does not mean that it will take that long to get to the next phase. Remember, feeling anxiety or stress can slow or stall your labor – and that’s the last thing you want to do! Enjoy this special time before your baby arrives – you have got a great big job ahead of you and you can totally rock it!
Happy Birthing, Alexia