If we believed what Hollywood depicts in its movies, then all babies would be born quickly, dramatically and with a whole lot of screaming. How many storylines have shown us a woman’s water breaking, and only moments later, that same woman pushing in a hospital bed? These lightening quick deliveries, while possible, are hardly the norm – especially for first time moms. In real life, you can expect a much slower progression of labor – spending hours or even days in the early stages.
What is early labor?
In the simplest terms, early labor describes the time in which your cervix dilates from 0 to 4 centimeters. Typically, this is the longest stage of the laboring process, but also the least intense. For some women, roughly 10 percent, their waters will break and kick start early labor. For others, contractions will begin on their own and the bag of waters may break spontaneously at any time thereafter.
What to expect
During labor, your cervix will open and thin out, paving the way for baby to be born. This dilating is made possible by uterine contractions. In the earliest stages of labor, you can expect milder, less intense contractions that last approximately 30 seconds and come in sporadic waves roughly 5-20 minutes apart. You may not even notice these early contractions, and truly, there is no reason to pay them any mind until they are stronger, longer and closer together.
How to cope
Labor is intense, often lengthy and certainly exhausting. How you spend your early hours can determine how your labor progresses – and how capable you are later on when it counts. Here’s how to make it through until active labor begins:
Rest: Labor is a marathon and there’s no sense in sprinting right out of the gate. You’re going to need that energy when your contractions are coming right on top of one another. Now, when contractions are unpredictable, less intense and farther apart, use this time to take it easy. If your contractions begin at night, do your best to ignore them and get back to sleep. You don’t want to find yourself completely depleted once labor kicks into high gear.
Eat and drink: Once you check into the hospital, most practices will either limit or completely restrict any food or drink during labor. While you’re still at home, do your best to stay hydrated and give yourself an energy boost with healthful snacks.
Ignore: If you have a healthy pregnancy without complications, do your best to ignore early labor. Keep yourself distracted by going out to eat with your partner, doing light housework or talking with a friend. Anything you can do to distract yourself from these early contractions will let you save your energy and concentration for when you really need it. Once you can no longer keep your mind off your contractions, it’s a pretty good sign that active labor has begun. Talk to your doctor or midwife about the length of time they will allow you to labor at home on your own. In some instances, your health care provider will advise you to check in to the hospital shortly after your water has broken.