There’s a lot of help and advice that can be offered to a mother going through or about to go through her first labor and birth. Advice ranging from positioning techniques to specialists to visit to comfort measures to nutrition can often be really helpful and much of it I offer. But there’s one thing that I think has helped the most and has really contributed to many of my clients who wanted a natural, low intervention birth achieving that goal.
Ignore labor as long as possible.
That’s it. It sounds silly, right? Or too simple? Really, that’s what they pay you for? Well, there’s a whole lot more that we doulas do when active labor really kicks in and beforehand, I promise. But this strategy has proven incredibly effective and it’s something doulas can help mom with at the time, especially when she might be feeling that oh-so-so-ready feeling when she’s full term.
After nine to ten months of waiting and loving on this baby and preparing for the birth, it is probably the most common and understandable pitfall for first time mothers to get too excited at the beginning of labor. The first twinge of a cramp starts their contraction timer, the first sign of bloody show and they’re calling the midwife or hospital, they hit 38 weeks and every back ache or contraction puts them on high alert.
Did you know the number one reason for hospital transfer from a planned home birth is not anything urgent? It’s actually exhaustion. Mom is having a long labor, has been up for a few days, is no longer coping well, and just needs plain ‘ol rest. So she comes into the hospital for an epidural to help with that.
It’s similar for moms planning a low intervention hospital birth. Getting too excited for early labor gets a mom there too early and puts her in the position of accepting way more intervention than she actually wanted.
Your body knows what to do. Trust it. Being hypervigilant or for some, even getting so excited that it prompts adrenaline to flow, will actually work against the hormones your body needs to facilitate labor. Adrenaline and oxytocin don’t work well together. Oxytocin isn’t released well if someone feels at attention, watched, unsafe, or at a high state of alertness. Putting too much stock in those early signs starts a mental game that can be counterproductive to a mother’s overall goals for birth. It’s actually in your best interest physiologically to keep going about your day or doing other things that can promote oxytocin release.
So you’re full term (important to note, if you’re not full term and have concerning labor type signs don’t ignore those) and you think labor could be beginning? Great. Ignore it. Keep going about your day. Perhaps make a mental note of whatever you saw, write it down if desired, then put it out of your mind. It might be the start of labor but it might not be. If it is, your body will let you know in due time. If it’s not or you have many days of early labor signs in front of you, then you are in the best possible position for handling them. A healthy detachment for when labor actually happens is really helpful for a mom seeking a low intervention or completely natural birth.
If it’s night or you’re tired and you notice changes, always try to sleep. Always. If it’s during the day and you have gotten a good rest the night before, make sure you’ve eaten something a bit substantial, are well hydrated, and then just keep doing your normal day. Timing isn’t helpful in early labor and isn’t recommended until it’s grabbing your full attention. As things do intensify, make an honest effort to still go about your day until there’s no denying it. Save your coping techniques for when they’re truly needed so that their effectiveness is not limited by using them too early.
Of course, if your doula or provider has asked for updates on early labor to help them plan or for extenuating circumstances, then do that. But always do it with the idea that this could be many hours or a few days long. Don’t get too invested in what is happening and just let your body decide if it is time and how quickly to move forward.
Once surges (contractions) begin to take your full attention even when doing your honest best to ignore them or complete other tasks, then it’s possibly time to take notice, start timing, or contact your provider. Other signs might be needing to vocalize or moan during labor or if you do notice contractions are coming extremely rapidly even if lighter.
If you’re struggling to think of things to do during those early labor days or hours, here’s a few ideas:
• Definitely don’t clear your calendar around your due time. If labor does begin, you can always cancel things. But it will drive a mom mad to just be waiting for weeks.
• Go for a walk. Walking is probably the most physiologically normal way for pregnant women to exercise and is the perfect movement for getting baby in a good position.
• Take a nap.
• Schedule or go to a chiropractor appointment.
• Get to Mass or Adoration!
• Try to get in for a prenatal massage.
• Plan a special date with your husband.
• Meet a friend for lunch or coffee.
• Really. I mean it. Sleep.
• Make love.
• Get those last day projects done.
• Grocery shop and stock up.
• Start a few meals for the freezer.
• Take advantage of the excitement and use it instead for cleaning or nesting.
• Did I say sleep? You should sleep.
I DON’T always give this advice to second or more time moms, unless her previous labor was on the longer side and/or she had an issue with labor exhaustion the last time. First time labors are known to be longer than subsequent ones, although of course, there are always exceptions. Second births, especially, have the reputation of being quicker so as a doula, that plays into my reaction when a client gives me a labor update.
When you save your energy - physical, mental, and emotional – for when it’s truly needed for intense active labor, you’re in the best possible position for a low intervention, physiological birth for both you and your baby.