Staying Confident in Early Labor
No matter what the situation, humans respond best and feel better in an environment that is free from threat and harm, and safe from judgment and control—a place filled with respect and care. For women in labor, this “safe” place is a private place.
In early labor, this often means it’s best to stay home until your labor is very strong. It’s important to be undisturbed early in your labor. If you feel safe and secure and have some measure of privacy, your stress hormones stay low and your labor can progress unhindered. Even though we (unlike other mammals) don’t naturally give birth alone, we don’t naturally give birth on stage, either. As in other intimate activities, in labor, we relax and focus better if we don’t feel observed, evaluated or interrupted.
If you have to worry or think too deeply about what’s going on around you, or if you’re surrounded by unfamiliar or discouraging sights, sounds, smells and people, your body launches a stress response. It releases adrenaline to help you face what your brain perceives as a threat. The body gears up to either stand and fight the threat or turn and run to escape it. Adrenaline tells your muscles to tense up, your senses to pay close attention, and your heart to pump blood rapidly to all parts of your body. Suddenly, you’re on guard and ready for anything. If you’ve ever swerved quickly or slammed your brakes while driving to avoid an accident, or tripped and caught yourself before falling, you know what a stress response feels like. That sort of tense anxiety can shut down labor, especially early labor, or make it a lot more difficult.
When you’re at home with family, friends or a professional doula—people who support you and trust birth—you’re more likely to feel safe and relaxed. Stay at home as long as you continue to feel safe and secure there. Do simple things that help you feel better. Labor is hard work, but it shouldn’t be torture. For example, in early labor, take a shower or a long, leisurely bath, shave your legs, wash your hair and get into comfortable clothes. If it’s nighttime, get some rest, even if it’s just between contractions. In the daytime, alternate between rest and walks, playing a game or other activities. Cook a meal for after the baby’s birth, or finish that last-minute sorting of baby clothes. Remind yourself that your body knows what to do.
As labor progresses, brushing your teeth, washing your face or brushing your hair are great pick-me-ups. Emptying your bladder often helps you stay comfortable and helps keep labor going. Eating and drinking give you the energy you’ll need to finish the journey.
If you’re not planning to give birth at home, remember that going to the hospital too soon starts a medical clock ticking and increases your risk of medical intervention, including cesarean surgery. It’s time to travel to your birth center or hospital when your contractions are close together, are growing and staying stronger, lasting at least a minute and are increasingly difficult to handle. If you have a doula or another person experienced with childbirth supporting you at home, that person may help you determine the right time to head for the birth center or hospital.
Labor is an important job that only you can do. It is not an ordeal you must simply endure. No matter where you labor, make it a comfort zone. Create as much privacy as possible by shutting doors and turning off bright lights. Surround yourself with items and people that allow you to focus on the task at hand. Wear comfortable clothes (or no clothes), use your favorite pillow and listen to music that suits your mood. This is work that you innately know how to do, and you can do it beautifully.
Adapted from The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence, 2nd edition.