Early Labor takes time; a lot of time, usually.
In fact, it can typically be about 3/4 of your total labor experience! When spontaneous labor begins, you’re (hopefully) spending those early labor hours at home before leaving for your hospital or birth center.
When labor begins slow and steady, a birthing person can go about their day with minimal need to focus on the sensations of contractions in the beginning. However, as early labor progresses towards active labor, a birth giver may find themselves turning to some of their planned relaxation and coping tools.
Here are some of our favorite at-home options to help bring relief, before it’s time to head into your place of birth.
Eat, eat, eat
Food is a huge comfort measure. Not only will it provide your body with a much-needed energy source now and later in labor (when you may no longer have an appetite), it also brings an emotional comfort, doesn’t it? Fuel your body with protein-rich options or snacks that will stick with you for a while. Our top suggestions are things like yogurt, eggs, cheese, or heck, even a milkshake.
While you’re eating those snacks, also consider drinking water or electrolyte-rich fluids like Gatorade or Coconut Water. This will help keep you hydrated and keep those contractions efficient. (Oh, and all that fluid intake will also increase the need for frequent bathroom visits to keep your bladder empty!)
Rest as much as possible
Early labor is your window for rest. If your body is feeling tired, allow it to sit down or even nap. Even if you’re not sleepy (we get it, it’s SO exciting to be in labor and your adrenaline may be pumping when the moment comes, making rest hard to come by), try relaxing in a comfy chair or on the sofa. By doing so, you’re conserving your energy for the later stages of labor.
Before you even ask, yes, it’s okay to rest. We know every childbirth education class (including ours) expounds upon the importance of changing positions and movement throughout birth. However, it is SO important that you’re able to alternate that movement with rest.
Active Labor *will* let you know when it’s time to get up, move around, and get active.
Take a walk outside
Pacing around your house may get boring after a while. While you’re balancing rest and activity, consider taking your partner or doula on a stroll outside (assuming it’s not mid-afternoon in a sticky North Carolina summer day).
Set a short-distanced goal (the local park, two laps around your block, the end of your road, over that hill, your neighbor’s mailbox) and walk to it. Having the destination in mind will help give a bit of motivation to keep going. The fresh air and movement will provide a distraction and comfort, while keeping contractions progressive.
Try out your bathtub or shower
Utilize our friend “The Aqua-Dural” for added comfort. Ask your partner to help you position towels in the tub if the hard surface doesn’t feel great (or allow them to jump in and support you, if there’s room!). The goal here is to fully relax your body around your baby. If your tub isn’t ideal for length soaks, give your shower a try. Sit on a birth ball to increase rest, and then use the shower head to angle the water pressure directly down your back or onto your belly. The warm water can help relax any tense muscles and the water’s gentle pressure on your skin will serve as a great contraction distractor (Hello, Gate Control Theory)
Have a TENS Unit? Put it on!
If you’ve rented a TENS Unit or have one of your own, consider applying it and switching it on during the early parts of labor. Not only will you benefit from it’s pain reduction abilities, there is some research that indicates that it’s most effective, or at least more helpful, in the later stages if it’s started in early labor and gradually increased as labor picks up.
As soon as you begin feeling labor contractions, go ahead and ask your partner to help you slip into something more comfortable, like those TENS pads!
Oh, and by the way, utilize a few minutes of this early labor time to call your doula for other suggestions, and call your midwife or OB to let them know you’re simmering. We all want to know you’re laboring, and we all want to know if you’re struggling or if you’re doing great!