I am a long early-labourer – with two of my babies I niggled and contracted for days before labour finally kicked in. With my first it was for ‘just’ a day – it was exhausting, sometimes frightening and I felt like I was in this off no-mans land because I wasn’t officially in labour and so it was just me and my husband and my trusty Sheila Kitzinger book.
Nothing much is written about early labour – and in pregnancy we might not seek this information because we mainly want to know about full-on labour and managing those big contractions.
But it can be early labour that throws us the curve ball, that knocks our confidence and takes us by surprise by being hard to manage.
Early labour can be brief and manageable but it can also last for 2-3 days with discomfort, pain, tiredness, frustration and that’s before labour properly kicks in.
It can often be caused by the position of a baby in the womb – lying on the right, lying back-to-back or just not quite lined up on the left can create a back ache and contractions which are focused on moving baby rather than dilating the cervix.
So how can you handle a long early labour?
- give labour time to unfold but get reassurance from your maternity unit when you need it
- listen to your body – eat, drink, rest, sleep, move, walk as you need to to stay comfortable
- get in the bath or shower if that helps you rest and feel more comfortable
- if you have backache – you may need to lean or kneel forwards to get the weight of your baby off your back
- if you are experiencing discomfort or pain with backache/contractions, try a TENS machine
- have someone with you if you are feeling frightened – partner, family, friend. You could also plan ahead and book a doula, you can call her for some reassurance and support
- try to accept that this is your labour – you need these contractions to move your baby into a better position for labour and birth and to start to dilate your cervix.
- if your contractions aren’t very regular it can help to go for a walk or to go up and down the stairs for a few minutes at a time – this can make room in your pelvis for your baby to move into a better position
- if this is your first labour, these early contractions can leave you feeling unsure or frightened as they begin to intensify – you may need to get some reassurance if you feel overwhelmed or panicky.
- it is helpful to know how to relax and to control your breathing so you can stay calm and deal with any panic
Early labour can be a balancing act of being comfortable and keeping distracted while your contractions build up and intensify – you need to feel safe and comfortable to enable this to happen. You also need to rest because you will need all your energy for later
If you are booked into hospital, the maternity unit probably won’t be able to book you in until you are in established labour so it can beneficial to stay at home for as long as possible BUT do go in if you feel uncertain about your contractions, for instance they may closer together and more intense than you expected; if you experience any bleeding; if your baby’s movements change; if you feel ill or you feel that something isn’t quite right. You won’t be wasting anyone’s time and it is always better to get checked out.
Try to relax and stay calm, this is just your body doing what it needs to do to bring you your baby. Have a cry, have a dance, chat and snooze if you need to – get to know what your body needs and what your contractions feel like. And focus on the end – your baby.
by Janine Rudin
an experienced practitioner in pregnancy, birth and early parenting