Every woman’s experience of labour is different, but some of the typical signs that suggest you’re in early/latent labour (so not yet 4cm dilated with regular contractions) are:
- cramps, period like pains or persistent back pain
- contractions or tightenings that don’t yet have a rhythm or specific frequency to them
- an upset stomach
- a brown or blood-tinged mucus (referred to as a show)
- mood swings & generally feeling restless, emotional or unable to sleep
- your waters breaking
How can I tell if my contractions are the real thing?
Braxton Hicks are practice contractions and they can occur throughout pregnancy (although typically more so towards the end) whereas labour contractions are noticeably longer, more regular and generally more uncomfortable.
This video is a great explanation of what’s happening and how the cervix thins and dilates during labour…
How long does early labour last?
It’s very much a case of how long is a piece of string unfortunately. For some women it’s a few hours, for others it can be several days. During this stage however your contractions are likely to be short lasting and irregular.
What should I do whilst waiting for labour to establish?
The best thing you can do is to try and relax. Easier said than done I know, but stress hormones slow labour down, so the more you are able to stay calm, the more likely things are to progress.
Try out some or all of these things:
- slow, deep breathing
- relaxing in a warm bath or shower
- keep your energy levels up by eating snacks or small meals
- stay hydrated and go to the toilet regularly as you’ll likely be more comfortable with an empty bladder
- call your midwifery team for support and reassurance whenever needed
- ask your birthing partner to massage your back & support you in any positions you feel comfortable in
- stay upright, consider using a birthing ball and focus on rocking your pelvis and swaying your hips
- use your TENS machine if you have one
When should I go to hospital?
Your midwifery team will help you to decide this, so stay in touch with them and call them whenever you need to. Generally speaking, the longer you can stay at home the better, as you’ll likely be more relaxed at home. Typically once you’re having contractions at least every 5 minutes lasting for a least a minute, labour will deem to be established and you’ll be invited to go to hospital, unless you’re having a home birth of course! In which case the home birth team will mobilise around you.