Early Labor

Early Labor

What’s Happening: Cervix effaces (thins out) from 50-100%, dilates to 6 cm. (Note: labor is milder when the cervix is 4 cm or less, and gets significantly harder from 4 to 6 cm.) Contractions 5-30 minutes apart. Contractions last 15 to 45 seconds, or longer. Mom may want to focus during contractions, but can walk or talk if desired. Can usually relax between contractions, and can carry on a chatty conversation. Early labor can last 2-24 hours or more.

Where you’ll be / Who will be there: At home, or out and about town. Support people, doula, friends, family. Whoever helps mom feel relaxed, loved, and supported.

Breathing techniques: No special techniques needed to cope with contractions when labor begins. When you need to do something to cope: Begin and end contractions with a deep cleansing breath, use deep abdominal breathing thru contraction. As labor demands more, switch to active labor breathing techniques.

Comfort Techniques: Alternate rest and relaxation, distracting activities, and labor-enhancing activities. Being active can help labor to progress, but it’s important not to exhaust yourself. Treat this as a vacation day. Start a fun project, or work on a hobby that you normally don’t have time to do.

Positions: It’s better to be upright (standing or sitting) than lying down. Gravity helps bring baby down in your pelvis: the pressure of baby’s head on your cervix can help your cervix to dilate more quickly. Try to sit in ways that open up your pelvis.

If labor is moving slowly: There’s no need to rush early labor. Try to stay calm and relaxed and take good care of yourself. If it’s night-time, try to get some rest so you have more energy for active labor in the morning. To help you rest: take a warm bath (might slow contractions a little) and drink something soothing (warm milk, chamomile tea). If it’s daytime, and you want to move labor along, you can consult with caregiver about the idea of using natural augmentation such as nipple stimulation, orgasm, or acupressure.

What should support people do:

  • Call the doula to let her know labor has begun, and make plans for staying in contact.
  • Encourage mom to alternate rest, distracting activities, and labor-enhancing activities.
  • Encourage mom to eat, drink, and go to the bathroom at least once an hour. Good foods during labor are: bananas, nonfat yogurt, cooked cereal, eggs, graham crackers, toast, smoothies made with nonfat milk and non-acidic fruit, noodles or rice. Focus on easily digested carbohydrates. Avoid fatty foods and acidic foods. Stay well hydrated; drink mostly water and unsweetened tea, since sweet drinks can cause nausea.
  • Time contractions occasionally (every few hours, or when things seem to change significantly.) Time five contractions in a row, and record: when the contraction began, how long it lasted, and how long it had been since the start of the last one. Note: There are several contraction timers online and in mobile app stores.
  • Help mom feel loved. When we feel loved and loving, safe and nurtured, the hormone oxytocin flows, and this helps the uterus to contract, and the cervix to dilate. Learn more here about the hormones of labor and their influence on pain.


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