By NCT Doula Beverley Hinton
People having a baby are often told to stay at home for as long as possible. This is because labour can be a really long event, and the best place to spend the early hours of labour is at home, relaxing. You can eat and drink, rest and move around easily, conserving your energy for when labour is advanced.
When I say that labour can be really long, I often get terrified looks, and sighs of ‘I hope mine isn’t’, but the facts are that labour generally is long! The NHS suggests that latent or early labour (when your cervix is softening, moving forward and opening to 3 cm) can take ‘many hours, or even days’ (1) and then for a first baby, active labour (from 4cm to birth) on average lasts about 6-12 hours (1).
This chunk of time, from when you begin to feel contractions, to when you are ready to go to hospital might be long, but it doesn’t have to be horrible. I always suggest that the birthing person and her birth partner make a plan of what they want to do during this time. Thinking of lots of activities that are relaxing, enjoyable and raise oxytocin levels. I also suggest that they practice and prepare in advance, so when the time comes, both feel confident of their role. Early labour is hard emotionally for the birthing person as they are at the beginning of an unknown journey. Having their birth partner present them with the activities they have chosen can really help them to stay positive and focused as well as relaxed and well fed!
Some suggestions include: –
Plan a food and drink station– On a long and strenuous journey you need good food and drink. It’s important to eat and stay hydrated once labour has begun. Maybe you could make some flapjacks or energy bars together or prepare a meal. You could get out all the snacks, nibbles and drinks you’ve planned in advance and dot them around the house. Some ideas include nuts and seeds, sweets, veg sticks and hummus.
Watch a film– try to choose a comedy or romance, which will help relaxation and feelings of wellbeing and love – all important to increase oxytocin flow. Try to avoid anything with danger or threat, as just like watching a horror movie, your brain might begin to feel scared or unsafe, even though you know its not real. This would cause adrenaline, which is known to slow down labour and make it more painful.
Plan a circuit class– It’s often hard to know what to do when you’re in early labour, and hard to get comfortable. If it’s night time it’s really important to try and rest so you can conserve your energy, but during the day you might find it helpful to have a list of physical things you can try. For example, bounce gently on your birth ball for 20 minutes, then lean forward over the ball with your eyes shut for 20 minutes, then walk for 20 minutes, then lay on your side for 20 minutes. Only do things you feel comfortable with, and if anything is uncomfortable stop. Upright and active is a really good way to encourage labour to progress and allow baby to move into a good position, but it does not mean you have to be moving around the whole time you are in early labour. Try to rest wherever possible.
Go out and about– if you feel able it is a good idea to try and carry on as normal. Pop to the shop for the last few bits for your labour bag or go for a walk or to a coffee shop.
Do a jigsaw– buy a jigsaw that you can look forward to starting. You can then lean over the table, maybe sitting backwards on a chair, or kneeling with elbows on a lower table. These are great positions for labour and finding ‘just one more piece’ will occupy your mind and help you stay at home for longer.
Prepare a relaxation area– if you have planned a relaxation area in advance, then you can set it up and use it to help you relax. How about a colour theme? I’m planning something pastel pink at the moment. We will have a pink blanket and pillow, some white and pink pom poms and streamers, a vase of pink flowers and some electric candles with a gentle pink glow. If you have practiced relaxation in advance, then the colour you have used will be a cue to help you relax. If you have had roses on the side where you practice your hypnobirthing, then just seeing the roses in your relaxation area will cause you to feel relaxed.
Phone the Midwife– Don’t feel guilty to phone the midwife. You can call and ask them anything, whenever you want. If you feel anxious or that you would like to go to hospital and get checked, then go. Maybe you will go a bit early and have to go home again. It doesn’t matter.
These are just a few of the ideas I suggest to people when I work as a birth doula. Using a doula means you will have someone who can help you plan these activities before labour, can be at the end of a phone when labour begins to remind you or make suggestions, and then come to you as labour progresses to help you stay at home as long as you want to. Your doula will also come with you to the hospital and help transport and set up anything you have been using and have found useful. Early labour might be long, but I hope that you will see that it can be a really lovely and special time too!