This post is for informational purposes only. Please refer to your medical provider for questions or concerns.
For many moms, feeling your first contractions sends a rush of adrenaline to your brain. It’s easy to become excited, and anticipatory. It’s no fault, it’s just how it happens! Contractions are the means to which your baby starts their journey earth-side!
All photos in this post by my birth photographer Lori Martinez!
However, what many women don’t understand is that early labor can take hours, days, or weeks. While some excitement is in order (things are happening!), I generally caution clients to not get too excited with these changes. In my experience, when early labor is treated with too much enthusiasm and excitement, it can lead to exhaustion, disappointment, and more than desired interventions.
So what do I suggest when a client calls to tell me they’re feeling a little something-something?
If it’s at night, I tell them sweetly, but firmly, to go back to sleep if they can. If during the day, I encourage them to eat something, shower or bathe and then start on their “labor project” if contractions are still coming from time to time.
What’s a labor project?
A labor project is a time consuming activity that we come up with prenatally so that clients have something to take their mind off early contractions. Think: cleaning bathrooms, painting, or making a birthday cake. Honestly, there really are no rules to a labor project. It should just be something that requires your focus for at least an hour or two, and nothing too terribly strenuous that you exhaust yourself.
In my experience, I have found that distraction is key to getting through early labor. When you absolutely cannot distract yourself any more, there’s usually a reason… active labor.
If by this time contractions are still infrequent, but coming, I often suggest more rest, nutrition, and bathing. Repeat the process over again.
Early/False Labor Can Hurt
What many people sometimes fail to understand (or empathize with) is that early contractions may be infrequent and short, but many times they’re still painful. I feel for clients with prodromal labor because I know it’s no cakewalk for the psyche or body! In these times, I suggest any distraction method possible and plenty of rest.
Long Early Labor is Not a Failure
Many people often refer to contractions that are infrequent or that come and go as “false labor”. I prefer to use the term “early labor”, or “prodromal labor” if contractions stretch days or weeks in the come and go style. I prefer this because although the contractions during this time may not be throwing your body into active labor, they are doing something. These contractions are preparing your body for active labor and may be making small, actual changes to your cervix in effacement or dilation.
Labor is a Marathon, not a Sprint
The most important thing to keep in mind when those first contractions hit is that most of the time, labor is a marathon and not a sprint (not looking at those of you with precipitous labors!). If you can prepare your mind ahead of time, you can cope with whatever labor throws at you.
How do I know if I’m in Active Labor?
Generally, active labor is a force that doesn’t stop. When your contractions are getting longer, stronger, and closer together, it’s a safe bet that you’re in active labor! It’s a combination of all three. Active labor isn’t necessarily defined by a dilation, though it tends to really get going around 5-6 cm. Active labor is also the time when it’s usually most appropriate to make it to your birth place! Many hospitals may not admit you until you’re 5 cm or more (check with your hospital for their policies and this does not pertain to those with certain medical needs).
So, in early labor, you may start feeling contractions more regularly, but unless they’re getting stronger, it’s usually not go-time, yet.
So, how do you survive early labor? In simple terms: eat, bathe, and sleep!