Did you know there are three stages to labour (according to the textbooks) but the first stage of labour is split into two. Your early or latent labour and your active or established labour.
According to NICE guidelines
· Latent first stage of labour – a period of time, not necessarily continuous, when:
o there are painful contractions and
o there is some cervical change, including cervical effacement and dilatation up to 4 cm.
· Established first stage of labour – when:
o there are regular painful contractions and
o there is progressive cervical dilatation from 4 cm.
As suggested above, latent labour can happen over a period of time (days or weeks even) when you can get symptoms such as period pains, cramps, upset tummy, backache, and your show. These are not strong regular contractions (these come as you progress into active labour) however they will still be making changes to your cervix. Its not all about the dilation (how open your cervix is) it first needs to soften, shorten, and move forward, which all happens in early labour.
So while this is all happening what can you do about it to help cope and keep you as comfortable as possible as well as keeping the adrenaline low and oxytocin flowing? We have put together our top ten tips for early labour to help you.
1: STAY AT HOME
Unless you have been told by your doctor or midwife that you need to attend the hospital sooner rather than later, stay at home until your contractions are strong and taking your breath away. Staying at home where you feel safe and comfortable will help with the progress of labour and decrease the amount of intervention you may need. Use our methods to keep you comfortable, distract yourself and keep you relaxed so the hormone oxytocin can flow.
2: CHOOSE A BIRTH PARTNER YOU TRUST
Whom ever you choose to be your birth partner should ideally be someone that you know and trust. The World Health Organisation discusses how a Cochrane review in 2019 shows how important a birth partner or labour companion can be, they “provide informational support about the process of childbirth, and bridge communication gaps between clinical staff and women. Companions also provide practical support, including encouraging women to remain mobile during labour, providing emotional support and non- pharmacological pain relief such as massage and meditation. Companions act as advocates for the women, speaking up in support of her and her preferences. Labour companions also help women feel in control and build their confidence through praise, reassurance, and continuous physical presence.”
3: CHANGE POSITION REGULARLY
We know that it is not solely mobilisation that helps in labour but simple changes in position, such as moving from kneeling to sitting, lying on left side to using a birthing ball, or relaxing in the bath to can have huge advantages for mum and baby: Increased maternal fetal circulation, decreased pain, improved quality of uterine contractions, helps babies head to descend into the pelvis as well as decreasing the length of labour, decreased risk of postnatal haemorrhage, and increased maternal satisfaction. There is one thing we want to add to this however, if your contractions start or continue into the night in early labour, do try and go to bed and sleep in between, to help you do this you can use our next top tip..
4: USE A TENS MACHINE
TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. They are designed to provide pain relief during labour, some even come with built in contraction timers. They are medically proven to be safe and effective and can be combined with other pain relief if needed. Ensure you purchase a maternity TENS which has a boost button for additional pain relief during a contraction, as well as different levels to work through as you progress in labour.
Use PBB's discount code JC1047 to purchase a Perfect MamaTENS, (please be aware there are many other types of TENS machines available to purchase)
The use of heat for comfort in labour is not a new thing. Warmth may be applied using a hot water bottle, heat pad, warm bath or shower or wheat bag, this might be to a specific area that is feeling tight or uncomfortable or used just for comfort to help you stay relaxed.
Learning to focus on your breathing in pregnancy will make it more natural once you need to use these techniques in labour. When we are anxious our breathing is faster and shallow, breathing slowly and calmly can help keep you relaxed and calm. Try to keep your out breath slightly longer than your in breath, it can help to count to 4 on the in breath and 5 on the out breath. Take a look at our Facebook videos for some more help with this from Dani Diosi, hypnobirthing teacher.
7: KEEP YOUR ENERGY UP
In many ways labour and birth is like running a marathon, and you wouldn’t run a marathon without preparing beforehand, this includes staying hydrated and eating when you feel like it. The kind of foods you should eat in early labour include wholemeal carbohydrates such as wholemeal pasta, sandwiches on wholemeal bread, with a light filling and other wholegrain foods that will be able to sustain your energy throughout labour. It is also important to pack foods that you enjoy into your bag like sweet treats and crisps.
8: USE SMELLS
If you are particularly fond of a certain smell then use this to trigger further relaxation. This can be used in conjunction with the breathing techniques and when you practice your breathing make sure you use the fragrance you like to create a strong association between the two.
9: KEEP COOL
Labour is hard work and depending on the weather outside you might need ideas to keep you cool. These will also be useful once in active labour. Think about using a face cloth to soak in cold water to put on your head or the back of your neck to help cool you down. You might want to pack a water spray bottle to use, or wet wipes. Expectant mums tell us about instant cold packs and gel packs that are easy to include in your bag or have handy at home.
10: STAY POSITIVE
And finally creating some birth affirmations, also known as positive self-talk or statements for positive birth can help you focus on your natural ability to labour and birth and remain positive thought out the process. They are short, positive statements that help to empower as well as create and encourage confidence. You can create these yourself or search some up on the internet, then write them on post it notes or make note cards or ask your partner to learn some and recite them during a contraction to help you remain positive. We have some you can use or give you ideas to go and create your own:
I can do anything for one minute
The more I relax the more my cervix softens and opens
I trust in my body and my baby