If you’ve taken one of our prenatal classes, you may already know that early labour can be a bit tricky to understand. This stage of labour is often long and tiring, and can be confusing and emotionally draining. Your labour may be inconsistent with lots of starts and stops, and you may start wondering if you’ll ever actually get past this stage (hint: you will).
So, how do you know you’re in early labour? Here are some of the most common signs:
- Increased discharge and/or mucous plug: As your cervix begins to change, you may see more discharge. Your mucous plug- a thick, gooey mucous that has sealed your cervix up until now- may be expelled. It’s normal for it to be cloudy, yellowish, or tinged with blood.
- Diarrhea/loose bowels: This is Mother Nature’s way of clearing out your bowels and making room for your baby to move down. Keep hydrated, and stay near the bathroom!
- Low backache and cramping: These are positive signs that labour isn’t too far away. Your cramps may feel like menstrual cramps.
- Light, irregular contractions: During early labour, contractions are often 10-20 minutes apart and last 30-45 seconds. They don’t require much focus yet, and you’ll still be able to more or less talk through them and/or carry on with your day.
During early labour, your body is beginning to find it’s rhythm and establish a labour pattern. This is the longest stage lof labour, lasting anywhere from a few hours to a day or more. Thankfully, it’s also the easiest stage of labour!
So, what should you do during your early labour? Here’s our best piece of advice: Ignore it.
Ignore it all.
No, really. Don’t pay any attention to it.
Why? Because though your body is doing exactly as it should be at this point, early labour doesn’t require much effort or focus on your part. You don’t need to use your breathing exercises, labour positions, or coping strategies yet. Early labour takes care of itself, and it’s best left alone to it’s own devices. During this stage, a disruption to your sense of calm, safety, and peace can actually cause your labour to slow down or stop entirely. If your mental energy is dedicated to monitoring your contractions, anticipating discomfort, or wondering if this is normal, you’ll have less energy left later on during active labour (when you’ll really need it).
Say it with us: IGNORE. EARLY. LABOUR.
Instead, spend your time doing something you really love. At our prenatal appointments, we love to ask our clients what they like to do for self care when they’ve had a bad day. Whatever is comforting, reassuring, and familiar to you is probably a perfect activity during early labour. Here are our top suggestions:
- Rest. You’ve probably heard that staying active can speed up labour, right? It’s great to move around during active labour, but during early labour, focus on rest. Your body needs to to get through the marathon ahead, and if it’s really labour, a nap won’t stop it.
- Eat and stay hydrated. Now is the time to focus on eating nourishing, protein-rich foods to fuel up. Make sure you’re staying hydrated, too. Your partner or your doula can be in charge of keeping your water bottle filled (and reminding you to drink it).
- Get some fresh air. If you’ve managed to sleep, head to your favorite beach or outside space for fresh air and change of scenery. It won’t make your labour go faster, but it will help you feel refreshed and relaxed.
- Go on a date. Now’s the time for your partner to really impress you! Spending quality alone time with someone you love helps you feel calm and secure, and it gets your natural oxytocin (the love hormone, and the hormone responsible for labour contractions) flowing. Grab a lunch at your favorite coffee shop, or go see a movie (just be prepared to leave in the middle of it if things really pick up!).
- Work on a “labour project”. You may want to pick up a puzzle, board game, or a craft to work on during early labour. You might work on a pregnancy or baby scrapbook, organize your camera roll, or bake a batch of celebration cookies to have after your baby is born!
- Update your doula. While most care providers ask you to page them or head to the hospital when your contractions are five minutes apart, your doula is different. We want to hear from you sooner, so that we can support you during early labour! Your doula is an excellent resource for your questions, worries, and concerns. We’ve got a bunch of tricks up our sleeves to help you get through this long, tiring stage!
Whatever you do, remember: Ignore early labour. We promise, once you’re approaching active labour, you won’t be able to ignore it any longer!