Remember if this is your first baby, the process of pre-labour (thinning out the cervix) has never happened in your body before and it may take time.- even days! Getting those first few cms dilated can be hard work, so you need to conserve your energy.
During early labour at home create a warm, comfortable and dimly lit environment for yourself. If possible disconnect the doorbell, and turn your mobile phone to silent to avoid unwelcome intrusions.
Other ways to help yourself are:
Relax: Go for a walk if possible, but don’t tire yourself out, and bring your mobile phone. Ensure you have close continuous support from your partner, your Doula or a friend or relative. At home find a dark, quiet, cosy place. Read, do the crossword, watch TV or a DVD, anything that helps you to pass the time. Go about your daily business when you feel able. Don’t panic, you could still have a long day ahead of you and there is no need to think that every thing is going to happen immediately.
Rest: Keep active (but nothing too strenuous) if it is daytime. Rest in upright, or semi-upright positions. Rest in bed if it is night. If labour begins in the evening or at night, try to rest or sleep between contractions. You should find that you are able to stay in bed when the contractions are 8 minutes or more apart, after that though it is often uncomfortable to lie and other restful leaning over positions are more helpful (e.g. leaning on your birthing ball or the arm of the couch, or kneeling on the floor beside the bed with your body resting on the bed.)
Eat and Drink: Have regular drinks and eat light snacks, if you feel like it. If labour starts during the night and you have to get up, eat a light breakfast even if it is 4am. Drink sips of juice or teas between contractions, or suck on ice chips.
Focus on your breathing: You may have learned particular breathing techniques in your antenatal classes. The aim of practising relaxed breathing is to stop you from breathing too fast, hyperventilating, being sick, and then losing the plot! The best advice is to pick someone or something to look at, (some women like to focus on the scan picture of their baby) keep the eyes open (though some of our mums say they preferred to keep them closed) and listen to your breathing: in through your nose - bringing fresh oxygen to you and your baby - and out through your mouth, letting go of tension as you exhale. Try about 3 seconds on the in-breath, 5 seconds on the out-breath, and then 1-2 seconds of a rest. It can be helpful to touch each of the three sections of a finger while inhaling, and again while exhaling.
Stay mobile and change positions: Stay vertical and mobile as the contractions begin to move closer together, e.g. 8 minutes apart: swaying, pelvic rocking, rotating your hips and walking. If you stay upright, you can help your baby into position for being born. Walking up and down the stairs sideways will also help get your baby in the best position.
Kneel and squat when you have to rest your legs. Use deep breathing only when you have to. Use any position that is comfortable, if you want to lie down, lie on your side changing position regularly.
Use water: Have a long soak in a full bath of water that is not too hot, in candlelight. Taking repeated baths in labour helps to reduce the sensation of pain. The water seems to cushion the contractions and often it is only when you get out of the water you realise how beneficial it is. If your waters have broken, take showers instead. Letting the shower beat down on your lower back helps to ease the back pain as well as keeping you in a good position for progressing labour.
Try pain relief: Take some paracetamol/acetaminophen, and try out your TENS machine (See Pain Relief Options)
Empty your bladder: Try and empty your bladder every 1-2 hours, even when you feel you don’t need to go.
Empty your bowels: This is a subject that most women don’t want to know or talk about, but you now “need-to-know”! As the head is moving down into the pelvis and starts to make its way out of your body it will create room by flattening the bowel. To do this the bowel needs to empty. That is why early, and sometimes later in labour (even in the delivery room), you may experience diarrhoea or an urgent need to evacuate your bowels. This is unpleasant but normal, and your carer has seen it all before! In the ‘old days’ many labour wards gave an enema to empty the bowel, but often women were already having frequent and good contractions and the enema increased this pain, so women did not know if the bowel cramps from diarrhoea or the contractions of labour were worse!
“When labour pains started. I took painkillers and went to bed for a rest!”
“For most of first part of labour with my first baby, I walked and worked through it – did laundry, made last-minute checks that everything was ready for the baby etc. The contractions started about 2 am and I didn’t wake my husband until about 8 am. Once labour and contractions were established, I tried to focus on breathing through contractions, positive thoughts etc, but I’m not sure how effective these were. It was only once contractions started coming on top of one another that I began to lose confidence.”
“During the early stages distraction is great. I kept myself busy by putting together flat-packed IKEA furniture, believe it or not. That kept me on all fours, which is a great position to keep things moving along. “