The final weeks of pregnancy are full of wondering and anticipation. As Braxton-Hicks contractions increase in frequency and intensity, a woman is often asking herself, “Is this it?” She will lay completely still, hoping against hope that her contractions continue so that she can move past pregnancy and welcome her new baby. As time goes on, she finds herself continually distracted from life while she focuses more and more on the “signs” her body is giving her regarding impending labor. Often, a woman will be so focused on giving birth that she stops working a week prior to her due date, just hoping she’ll be lucky enough to give birth during week 38. Others pack their bags for the hospital weeks before hand and have it waiting by the door.
Though the final weeks and days seem to drag on forever, when real labor begins, a woman knows it. There is a marked difference in the pain associated with contractions and generally a woman is filled with nervous excitement or a peaceful calm. Whichever way it happens for you, here are a few ideas for how to pass the early stage of labor:
1. Sleep if you can. I laughed when people gave me this advice while I was pregnant. I had heard of women who were able to sleep during the first few hours of labor, I even knew a few, but the excitement I felt during early labor always prevented me from doing it. However, if you are able, lay down and get as much rest as possible.
2. Take a bath. Water is wonderful during labor and in some cases, delivery. By taking some time to soak in the tub (if your water has not broken yet) you will ease some of your discomfort, as well as give yourself an opportunity to relax. In my experience, taking a bath has helped my labor pick up momentum.
3. Pack your bags. I advise waiting to pack your bags until you are in labor. This provides you with a memorable experience as you realize that within the next several hours, you will be able to use those nursing pads, onesies, and newborn diapers you are putting into your duffel bag.
4. Talk to your spouse. As labor progresses, you feel less and less like talking. During the early stage of labor I would make any phone calls that I felt were important, and spend time talking to my husband. This is also a great time to have your husband record times and lengths of contractions for the baby book.
5. Stay home as long as possible. Many women make the mistake of heading for the hospital as soon as they feel the consistent onset of labor. For women who are nervous about labor and feel they will want medication quickly, this may be wise. However, by staying home you can enjoy your familiar surroundings. You don’t have to wear a hospital gown or be hooked up to an I.V. or a fetal monitor. You have complete freedom of movement and are generally more relaxed than in a hospital setting. When you cannot speak during contractions, or they are closer than 4 minutes apart, you should head to your hospital or birthing center.
Your early labor will likely be a time which you remember for the rest of your life. It is a time of reflection, excitement, and perhaps anxiety. Make the most of it by trying to relax, enjoying a warm bath, talking with your loved ones and packing your bags.