The early stage of my first labour was spent in the hospital. It was a really long stage and I had a birth plan – I was going to have a water birth. When the midwife told me I couldn’t have one I realised that I hadn’t really thought about what I was actually going to do during labour. I knew the different pain relief options available to me. I also knew all the signs, symptoms and stages of labour. But here I was in early labour with no idea how to manage it. I was waiting for somebody to tell me which position to be in, how to breathe properly and how to move. I felt a sense of panic.
When I was planning for my second labour I did a lot of research on how to manage the signs and symptoms of early labour. I wanted to enjoy my early labour and feel positive and in control.
What are the First Signs of Labour?
A show is when the mucus plug comes away from your cervix. When it comes away it can be seen in one piece or small jelly-like blobs and it is pinky-brown in colour. A show means the cervix is opening and labour can start soon after or a few days later. Not everyone has a show.
Before labour begins some women experience Braxton Hicks these are not real contractions. A contraction is when your womb tightens and relaxes. During early labour these contractions can feel like really strong period pains. As labour progresses the contractions will get stronger and closer together. When you have a contraction the muscles will tighten, your abdomen will go hard and the pain will increase. When the muscles relax the pain and hardness will fade away. These contractions push the baby down to the cervix.
Pain in your lower back
You can feel pain in your back that will come and go in waves or it may feel heavy like during your period.
Waters may break
This is when the amniotic sac around the baby breaks releasing the amniotic fluid. This often happens when contractions have started, but it can be before. With both of my labours, my waters breaking was the first sign of labour starting. When the amniotic broke it felt like a pop and I had a trickle of fluid consistently coming out – there was no big gush of liquid. My waters then trickled out steadily and I had to wear a pad to absorb the fluid.
You need to contact the hospital when your waters break so you can be monitored. The hospital will ask you to go in for a checkup to make sure everything is normal and then they will send you away until you are in active labour. You will be given a time to return to the hospital to be induced if labour hasn’t progressed because once your waters have broken bacteria can get into the womb and cause infections.
With my first labour the fluid was a brown colour. This meant it had meconium (baby’s first poo) in them. So I had to stay at the hospital and be monitored to make sure baby was ok.
Urge to go to the toilet
You can get an urge to go to the toilet because the baby’s head has dropped and is pressing onto your bowel. You may also have an upset tummy.
How do I manage the symptoms of early labour?
The signs and symptoms of early labour are all simple to manage. These are the things you can do when your labour begins:
- Put on a maternity pad to absorb the fluid from your waters breaking. If you need to change your pad before going to the hospital take it with you as the midwife may need to see it – particularly if you are unsure if your waters have broken or if the colour is unusual.
- Have a hot shower or bath to help with early contractions
- Eat small amounts to keep your energy levels up
- Drink water to keep hydrated
- Put your TENS machine on
- Be active to encourage labour to progress – try using your birthing ball
- Rest when you can – even try to sleep
- Use hypnobirthing to focus your mind
How can I enjoy early labour?
- Slept for an hour as soon as I got home to make sure I was well rested
- Ate toast
- Hot shower
- Sipped water to keep hydrated
- Sat on my birthing ball to keep upright
- Took short walks around the room
- Kept going to the toilet to keep my bladder empty
- Listened to my podcast on hypnobirthing, I used headphones as I found this helped me to remain focused in my own little world
- Repeated a positive affirmation with every contraction
- Used my TENS machine
- Had my essential oils nearby
- Birth partner was next to me but knew to leave me alone unless I asked for something. This helped me to remain focused
- Had hospital bags packed and in the car ready so I wasn’t worried about them
- Made sure my other child was happy and had somebody there ready to take care of him
If you have enjoyed reading this check out the complete guide to childbirth. I share my experience of using natural pain relief in active labour and a breech birth.
So what helped me to enjoy and manage early labour? Having some ideas ready of activities that would distract me and keep me calm. Knowing which natural pain relief I was going to try and making sure I had practiced using them before my waters broke! So write yourself a list of activities you are going to do during early labour and make sure you have everything nearby when labour begins.