Words by Sophie
So labour is beginning, your baby is on their way! All those months of pregnancy have been preparing for this moment. You might be feeling an array of emotions; perhaps excited, anxious, restless, relieved, daunted (or something else) You may realise the process has started by feeling sensations building, you may have lost your mucus plug as you begin to open, your waters may have released, you may have felt sick, maybe restless or you may have just had a feeling (or a combination of these).
Before we start delving into what to do during this phase of labour let’s just cover briefly what is happening in your body during these early stages.
What is early labour?
Early labour is part of what is known as the first stage. During this stage your body will soften, open, and build up the muscle called the fundus. The hormones prostaglandin and relaxin increase and act to soften your cervix from a hardness like your nose to a softness like your earlobes or lips. This can also get your bowels moving so you may find that you do some extra poos. You will be thirsty and may still be hungry (if you just want to snack high in energy things are best).
As I mentioned earlier you may have noticed your mucus plug come away, this has acted for the months of pregnancy as a barrier to protect your baby. This is a sign that your body has started to open. This can look brown or pink with a small amount of blood.
You may have released your waters, in a gush or they could trickle out. If your waters have released your sensations usually follow soon after but if they do not you have a choice to make. The guidelines in these cases are to offer induction after 24 hours because chances of infection increase but this is your choice. If you decline induction, then you can be monitored daily to keep an eye out for any changes. If this is how your labour begins it is even more important to do the things I write about below. Being relaxed is key.
You may have started to experience sensations, they will be irregular at first and may come hours or many minutes apart. Although they may not feel particularly strong here (though they might as we are all different) they are doing important work. Things are moving, helping your baby into the best position they can be ready to start their journey down the birth canal. This is vital time and baby positioning will help later in labour.
A burst of adrenaline is released as labour is begins. This may cause you to jump up and busy yourself sorting things you feel are not ready. Some women want to call everyone, waking their partner if it is night or calling them to their side and some women might want to keep this special secret for the moments of time that they can. It is important to remember that this part of labour could last weeks, days or hours and so it is important to rest. Remember that the hormone oxytocin is important during labour and it is produced through quiet and relaxation.
Ok so what shall you do during early labour?
The first thing to consider is that regardless of where you are aiming to give birth you will most likely be at home during this period. It can be a useful exercise to think of some lovely things to do during this time. Have activities, snacks, and relaxing things ready in your home. Have a think of all the things that make you feel good and do these things during early labour. If for some reason you are in hospital during this time it can still serve you very well to have things to do that keep your mind calm and make you feel good.
Rest! This is so important, you want to be conserving energy. This is especially important to remember if your waters release and you have no surges yet. You don’t want to be working overtime trying tricks to start labour only to then be in labour without the energy to do what you need too. (trust me I learned this the hard way first time round!) You have done all the preparation you need too, you do not need to spend the time going back over everything (unless this helps you to feel calm) now is the time to rest, be calm and let your body get on with the task in hand.
Relax! Relaxation and feeling loved produces the hormone oxytocin, which helps labour to progress and governs your surges. Your birth partner’s role here is to keep you calm. If you feel anxious or daunted by the road ahead then they can reassure you, hold you and ensure that your environment is how you have planned to also help with calmness and oxytocin flow. You are connected in these moments; you, your baby, and your birth partner. You affect the hormones your birth partner produces and vice versa and so doing calm, quiet and special things together can get you both into the flow of relaxing and letting birth happen.
Breathe! Use your breath to focus and calm your body. If you have attended a hypnobirthing course, then you will know some really effective techniques to use here. As your surges get stronger and labour progresses it is even more important to breathe. Visualize yourself birthing powerfully again, focus on calm. You will be producing higher levels of endorphins, your body’s natural pain relief, if you are relaxed.
Use your birth partner! It is important to feel supported and safe. This is one of the many brilliant things about having a birth partner you know and love. They know what makes you feel happy and calm and what makes you feel uncomfortable and scared. Talk, relax together in these moments, this time is special before you journey to have your baby in your arms.
Simple tasks! Things like cooking, gentle tidying, taking a little walk, reading, watching a funny film, listening to music or anything you love are great to do here. These activities can help occupy your mind before you start to journey into the realms of your birthing mind. If you feel worried or daunted by the way ahead talk to your partner, use your hypnobirthing relaxations (Powerball is especially good for confidence) and do something that relaxes you.
Your baby is ready to be born and you will work together during birth. Your instincts are powerful and as you journey through birth it is important to remember that you are so capable (far more capable that you may realise) you can totally do this. All those months of preparing, focusing, and relaxing will have helped you tremendously! How you feel in these early moments will serve you greatly as you progress so doing these things above can help you relax into your baby’s own individual, unique birth story. You totally have this gorgeous pregnant Mother!
My name is Sophie, I am a hypnobirthing teacher, run Kent Hypnobirthing and am a Mother of two. To find out more about me and my lovely fellow teachers, Christy and Katy, head to our website here!