Finally, after months of waiting, the big day is here! You’re pretty certain you’re in labor, and your little one’s arrival is in the very near future. But, you are not in active labor quite yet–contractions are not 4-5 minutes apart lasting one minute over the course of an hour (the most common marker given to expecting parents for deciding when it is time to either go to the hospital/birth center or summon the midwife). In fact, if you load up in the car and rush to the hospital, you’re likely to be sent home to labor there until you are in active labor, which can be discouraging when you are so eager to meet that sweet baby. So if it’s not time to head to the hospital or birth center or to summon your midwife, what can you be doing during this early phase of labor? Here are 10 things you can do during early labor to pass the time and help you be prepared for what’s ahead.
- Rest. It is so tempting to want to do everything you can think of to “get labor going”–walking, lunging, stairs, etc. But here’s the thing: labor is going to go at it’s own pace, whether slow or fast. None of these things will speed labor up or put you into active labor if your body is not ready. All that will be accomplished is wearing yourself out just before you do the very hard and tiring work of birthing your baby. So if you can, rest. Lie down, close your eyes. Try to sleep, even if it’s just for a little while. If possible, your partner should rest too. Resting now helps both of you be prepared for the marathon of labor later on and the sleepless nights that come with parenting a newborn. This may be your last chance for a good rest for a long time, so enjoy it! Take a warm bath.
- Eat a good meal. Labor, like any intense physical activity is hard work. Your body needs fuel for the work ahead. Have a good meal that includes protein and complex carbohydrates to keep up your energy. While things in the birth world are changing, many hospitals still only allow clear liquids during labor, so you may not be able to eat until after delivery once admitted. And, even if you are birthing at home or in a birth center that allows for eating, once active labor begins you won’t feel like eating much and may be nauseated/unable to eat even if you want to.
- Go for a gentle walk. This is not the time to power walk. The goal is not to exhaust yourself or get a good workout, but to help you relax and be in a calm state of mind for labor. Feel the breeze, soak in the sunshine, enjoy the sounds of the birds.
- Call your doula and your midwife/doctor. Everyone on your birth team needs a heads up that labor is beginning. Your midwife/doctor will want to know how tings are progressing and to advise you on when they would like you to proceed to the hospital/birth center or if there are any concerns you need to keep in mind. Your doula will need to start her own plans, calling childcare if she has children, rescheduling any appointments she may have. She’ll be available to talk to you on the phone, to listen to you through contractions, and to provide encouragement to you and your partner as well as suggestions for coping. And, as labor progresses, she’ll be ready to join you when you need her to provide in person support.
- Distract yourself from contractions. Don’t focus too hard on what is or is not happening. Focusing on the contractions can make the discomfort harder to cope with and can make later contractions seem more intense. It can also make it feel like labor has carried on much longer than it really has.Watch a movie, read, play a game, listen to music. You will get to the point when you cannot distract yourself from contractions or talk through them–then it will be time to go!
- Paint your toenails and shave your legs. Seriously. When you are in labor and everybody is up close and personal with your body, it can be such a comfort to know that you are not super hairy or that your toenails don’t look like they belong on Bigfoot. (This was the greatest comfort to me when I unexpectedly had my first child early–I kept thinking how glad I was that I had shave my legs and had nicely painted toenails that day!) Plus, once baby is here, you may find that having time and energy to spend on pedicures or shaving is hard to come by, so this is a great time to get that done!
- Sit on a birth ball. A birth ball is just one of those big round exercise balls, also called stability balls. Sitting on a birth ball helps open the pelvis and make room for baby to move down and get in optimal birthing position. And the idea here is not bouncing–ouch, that can be painful in labor! Small hip circles are best.
- Check that your bag is ready to go. Whether you are having a home birth, birth center birth, or hospital birth, you need to have a packed bag ready to go with all the same essentials you would have for a weekend away for both the mother and the partner, plus snacks and some things for baby. Even if you don’t plan on being at the hospital, if complications arise and a transfer is necessary, you’ll be so glad to have a a bag to grab on the way out. Double check for things like toothbrush, chargers for phones, etc. and put the bag either by the door or in the car.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Being well hydrated in labor is so important for both you and baby. Drink water, have some juice or tea. And when you’ve had that, drink some more!
- Breathe. The last thing on the list might just be the most important. Take a moment to breathe. Center yourself. Remind yourself that you are about to meet that precious little person you have been carrying for nine months. Know that you are strong and capable and designed to birth this baby. However your birth plays out, remember that you are already a great mother because you love this sweet baby and are more than capable of making the best choices for a safe and healthy birth for both of you.
I hope this list helps you weather the build up to active labor! Best wishes for your birth journey!