by Carrie Hike
It's finally here. You have been waiting for weeks, paying strict attention to every Braxton Hicks contraction, every nesting urge, and going to bed every night wondering if you will finally wake up in labor. Now, the contractions are here, consistently 8-7-6 minutes apart, and they aren't letting up. Awesome! The party has started! Now what? Keep timing contractions? Go hike some hills to get them stronger? Easy now, mama. There's a marathon in your immediate future and it's important that you to try to relax and rest. Getting too ramped up in the early stages of labor can wear you out before you reach active labor, sabotaging your long term efforts. Sleep deprivation, hunger, and physical exhaustion can make coping with the contractions even more difficult. Here are some tips for early labor:
#1. Keep your early labor sensations a secret. Unless you need to arrange childcare for older children, or someone needs to travel from a very far distance to support you at the birth, there is no immediate need to call your friends and family to let them know you are in labor. Phones and texts relentlessly ringing and buzzing to check on your progress during contractions can be distracting and annoying. Additionally, sometimes friends and family members start to worry when they feel that your labor is taking "too long." You can share the happy news when you are holding your baby . However, please do call your doula! She needs to clear her schedule for a birth.
#2. Take a nap. We understand that it's difficult to sleep when you are excited/uncertain/nervous/scared/happy/relieved, or all of the above all at once. These are all normal feelings. After all, you are going to meet your baby sometime in the next 24-48-72 hours. "What? 72 hours?!!" you ask. Yes. It's possible. Typically, births are not 72 hours, but it does occasionally happen. 24-36 hour labors are not uncommon. No matter how long your labor, you will need to be well rested. Take a nap.
#3. Eat and drink. Try to eat a meal high in protein and carbs, and stay hydrated. You will need the energy. Even if you are not particularly hungry, there will certainly come a time in labor when food will not appeal to you in the slightest. Now is the time to feed your body to prepare for the marathon. There was once a widely held belief that eating during labor was unsafe because of the risk of aspiration during an emergency cesarean, but that is no longer considered to be evidence based practice. Try to make frequent bathroom trips. Not only does keeping your bladder empty make more room for baby's head, but sometimes just sitting on the toilet helps your body relax and dilate.
#4. Make sure all your bags are packed, and car seat is in the car. Chances are, this has been done for a few weeks, but if not, now is the time. Don't forget your birth plan/preferences and your phone charger! Here is a hospital packing list hospital packing list for your convenience.
#5. Stay at home as long as possible. Unless you are concerned that something is wrong*, staying at home throughout early labor is ideal. Try to transfer to the hospital during active labor. In Asheville, when you get to the hospital, you go to the outpatient room right off the G elevators on the 4th floor. This is a bright fluorescent area that affords little privacy (a curtain) where you are admitted and checked for dilation. Sometimes, if not in active labor, you will be sent home, or to walk the hospital hallways, which also brightly lit and not private. For this reason, you want to make sure that you time your arrival at active labor. Ideally, this is around 6-8 centimeters dilation. In this way, you expedite the admission process, and don't have to spend your early labor wandering hospital hallways or traveling back in forth in the car. Car rides during labor can be incredibly uncomfortable.
* Go to the hospital immediately if:
You are bleeding - some bloody show is normal. A lot of blood is not.
Your waters have broken and the fluid is not clear
Baby isn’t moving
You feel like there is something wrong
You can’t stop vomiting
You have unbearable pain
You want to push
#6. Don't get discouraged. After many hours of laboring, sometimes mothers opt for a vaginal check. The number that they hear can be discouraging. Keep in mind, this is just a number, and it means little to nothing, other than your body is working hard and you are in labor. I have seen women go from 2cm to 10cm in a half an hour, and 1cm to 10cm over the course of 3 days. There is no way to tell how long it is going to take. Even if it takes 15 hours to get to 5cm, that does not mean it will take another 15 hours to dilate the next 5cm. In my experience, it takes the longest for women to get to 6cm, which is considered active labor. Once 6cm is reached, things tend to start moving faster. Although, such as it always is with birth, you can never tell. The best thing to do is to not psych yourself out, and take one contraction at a time, knowing that every contraction is one less, and there will be an end to them. Your baby is on the way!