This could be a very brief post as I could just write: Rest, hydrate and don't pay too much attention to what's happening until you absolutely have to. In a nutshell, that's what I tell my clients when we discuss the early stages of labour or sometimes it just turns out to be pre-labour. But there's obviously more to say about this very important part of your birth so here I share with you my 5 tips for when you're in early labour:
1. Don't get too excited
It would be natural to break out in big excitement that labour has obviously begun as soon as you feel more than two contractions in a row given that you have been waiting for this moment for 40 weeks more or less. Jump out of bed, bounce on your fitball to try and get things going even more, tell your partner and maybe the extended family that your baby is coming and begin timing your contractions. But you see early labour is a funny animal and often quite shy. Labour is driven by hormones and contractions are produced by oxytocin, the love hormone. The enemy of oxytocin is adrenaline which your body produces when you feel excited, scared or stressed and immediately suppresses any oxytocin that's beginning to flow in your body. So what can you do? Anything that makes you feel safe, loved up or relaxed and helping you to keep an open mind towards what might unfold. Your beginning contractions might turn into labour...or they may not. That's a really important factor and leads me to tip number 2:
2. Try not to have an expectation but be simply present with 'what is'
This sounds more complicated than it is. Early labour has many faces and can show itself differently in every woman. For some women early labour begins and steadily increases into the real deal, some women don't even have an 'early labour' and go from 0 to 100, for some women early labour lasts 24 hours and for some it comes and goes across a few days. It is absolutely unpredictable how it will unfold for you and therefore it is wise to keep an open mind when you feel things are beginning to happen for you. Try and be present with what your body and baby are choosing to do with a curiousity along the lines of 'Oh I wonder what you have in mind, I'm open and ready for whichever pace you need'. Once you step into thoughts that take you to impatience or frustration ('I thought this would be different' or 'I wish I would be further than this') you make things much harder for yourself and are less likely to remain in a positive mindset once the real deal begins.
3. Rest and Hydrate
This kind of goes back to number 1 but deserves to be elaborated on. Labour is like a marathon and you are the athlete so you ideally go into it being as re-energised and fuelled as you can be. Exhaustion and dehydration are one of the hardest things to work with during labour. So if you are beginning to feel a few niggles or regular contractions and it's in the evening (which often it is)...go to bed. Have a big glass of water, take a bottle with you so you can easily hydrate during the night and try to go to sleep. And even if you cannot sleep, close your eyes, rest, don't talk much, go inward, use your breath if you need to and try to stay there for as long as you can...your body will tell you when it is time to get up. You may find yourself in the early morning hours being woken by much stronger contractions that feel different or things may fizzle out and come back the following night. But rest, drink, cuddle, sleep for as long as you can!
If you are finding yourself in the early stages of labour during the day then it's very much about doing things that make you happy but don't require you to be too 'outward' and in your thinking brain. Go for a walk on the beach, enjoy a cafe lunch with your partner or best girlfriend, go home and have a nap, watch your favourite rom com...nothing too exhausting and of course drink lots!
4. There is no need to 'time' contractions
Women are often told in prenatal education that the time in between and length of contractions is important and tells you where things are at in your labour. And that's true once you are in established labour but not important in early labour. When I'm supporting first time parents they often get onto their 'contraction timer' as soon as things seem to be beginning and I usually say 'Stop timing them, go back to bed and try not to pay too much attention to what's happening, you will know when you have to'. The hazard with timing contractions during the early stages of labour is that it makes you focus too much on what's happening when your body is still figuring out what it wants to do. And it can increase 'disappointment' or frustration when things slow down again instead of progress. Which would be totally fine and normal!
5. Get to know the sensations of labour
And last but not least: Early labour is a perfect time to get a 'feel' for the sensations that labour brings and to become 'friends' with them. Welcome the sensations, take them as a sign that your body is working hard and familiarise yourself with what and where you feel it. Observe what you need to do to work through them (if anything) and encourage yourself to move into where you're feeling things rather than away from it....reeeelax your shoulders, jaw and mind. If this becomes your mantra during early labour it will be even easier to remind yourself of it once you move across into labourland....established labour!
I hope you find these tips helpful in navigating your early labour! As a doula I often find coaching couples through this stage is quite an essential part of my birth support as you can easily feel a little 'lost' on what to do or deal with the emotions that naturally will arise. If you would like me to be there for you to guide and encourage you as you bring your baby into the world don't hesitate to get in touch and find out why having a doula is an increasingly popular and smart choice for many families across the Central Coast - I would love to hear from you!