What Happens On The Day You Go Into Labour?
The day has finally come! You are hours away from welcoming Baby into the world and you are just starting to feel some regular tightenings. Things are getting real!
Labour Day is filled with both an overwhelming excitement and natural anxiety. You can read about it all you want, but being in labour is a unique and challenging for each person who experiences it.
There is a way to tackle that anxiety… and that is to be informed, educated and empowered. Here is a quick crash course with tips and tricks on what to expect on labour day.
First, I’d like to address a word that terrifies most parents that I work with: contractions. A contraction occurs when the muscle of your uterus tightens then relaxes, just like a muscle does when you are working out. Each contraction works to push baby down and out of your body. While they can be painful, your body knows exactly what it is doing and has a “pre-programmed” knowledge of exactly when to release certain hormones and how to get that baby out. That being said, there is a lot to learn to help you cope with contractions and even optimize them to have a shorter labour! And yes, this is so important to know even if you’re planning to have an epidural.
In the later days of pregnancy, you might experience Braxton-Hicks contractions, on and off before labour starts. Not everyone experiences these contractions though.
Early labour can sometimes start with prodromal or “false” contractions. These are inconsistent contractions that can stop and start but work to start softening and thinning the cervix to get your body ready for ‘true labour’. False contractions give a sense of uselessness to these, but they are far from that! Your body is gearing up and like any muscle before being worked out, your uterus needs to be stretched and prepared to be used.
When Early Labour first starts, telling the difference between a true and false contraction can be tough. One way to tell if they are going to stick around is to time them by writing down how much time it takes from the start of one contraction to the start of the next (its not how much gap there is in between). Time them for around an hour to see how far apart they are. Braxton-Hicks contractions are irregular, and stay irregular. They don’t get closer together over time.
Now, that we know what we’re looking for in the Early Stages, here is what to expect on labour day and what you can do to help you cope.
What You May Experience
- Mucus plug loss and bloody show: the mucus plug is like a cork that seals your cervix during pregnancy. It helps protect baby from the outside world while in the womb. The mucus plug is often tinged with blood, called the bloody show and falls out as the cervix dilates. This can happen a couple of weeks or a couple of hours before labour starts.
- Cervical changes: there are 3 main changes to your cervix that need to happen for baby to be born 1) Effacement – thinning of the cervix 2) Shortening – the cervix goes from ~4cms thick to “paper thin” 3) Dilation: your cervical opening goes from fully closed to ~10cms open and out of the way of baby’s head. Your body is so amazing!
- Excitement: most parents get really excited at this stage -the day you have been waiting for is finally here!
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Rest: The best thing to do at this stage is to work with the labour. Alternate between periods of rest and activity. For example, go for a nice walk followed by a hot shower and nap. Resting has to be the hardest part due to the excitement, but it’s worth trying!
- Eat small, high-energy meals: labour is a workout! So you need to fuel your body at this stage to help it over the next two phases of labour. Research shows that the energy and caloric needs of parents in labour are similar to those of professional marathon runners. Stock up on food that give you lots of energy and are easy to digest: peanut butter and banana sandwiches, protein oats and spaghetti are some great ones! **Just remember, many hospitals do not allow you to eat when you are in labour so have a high-energy meal before heading in.
- Stay hydrated: try to drink half your body weight in ounces of water a day. Remember, hydration doesn’t have to come from water only. You can have soups, freezies, smoothies, etc. This is also a great time to prepare ice chips for labour. Here are a couple of alternative ice chips recipes to bring with you to the hospital.
- Stay upright & mobile: This is one of the most important things you can do to help your labour progress and make sure the baby is in the best position possible. Go for a walk, get on your hands and knees, use an exercise ball, or even dance!
- This phase takes about 2 to 8 hours. Your cervix effaces (thins) and and dilates (opens) to about 4 to 6 cm. Many times this stage begins happening overnight.
- Contractions will continue to become stronger and longer. They will go from irregular to regular and are usually about 3-5mins apart lasting 60-75seconds.
- You will likely feel the need to be more focused and your mindset will shift to a more focused and internal perspective.
- Stay calm: it’s important to listen to your body and develop a rhythm with it. That will be more difficult to achieve if you are frazzled or anxious. Use your environment to help stay calm. Put on your favourite music and dim the lights. Have your Labour Support Person ready with water and coping techniques.
- Use your breath: controlled breathing can help you relax and decrease the perception of pain. I teach several breathing exercises in my Empowered Birth Prenatal Course. Here is one: breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Keep the breath as slow as possible and focus on breathing out as the contraction peaks. Relax your shoulders. As the intensity of the contraction decreases, return to a full relaxed position and rest in between.
- Change positions every 30 minutes: there are so many different labour positions that you will be taught in your prenatal course. Switching positions every 30 minutes will help you get more comfortable, encourage baby to get into a better position for delivery and help your labour to progress. This can even help make labour shorter! Find out how.
- Empty your bladder: A full bladder will slow down baby’s descent. Your care provider will encourage you to use the washroom – It will help.
- The cervix will finish dilating and effacing from 8 to 10 cm.
- Contractions will be the strongest and longest yet, 2 to 3 minutes apart for 60-75 seconds
- A lot of parents start feeling like they are losing control during this phase of labour. That is really normal, but continue listening to your body and developing a rhythm. Try to win the battle over your panicking brain and know that your body knows what to do.
- Change positions frequently: we already talked about how good changing positions can be for both you and baby. Continue to change positions more frequently and move the way your body is telling you to move.
- Stay in the moment: I find staying present and in the moment the most helpful in this stage. You are in the final stretch but that’s hard to remember in the midst of the intense contractions. Focus on one contraction at a time and relax as much as you can during the 2 to 3 minute rest periods.
- Use your coping techniques and visualization: Your mind is a very powerful tool and you can use it to your advantage during labour. Some parents find visualizing the labour process and what is happening to your body incredibly effective. Visualize your cervix softening and your body changing to guide baby into the world. If not practiced ahead of time, visualization won’t come easy during labour. You can start now!
Labour is a beautiful and unique experience for every new parent. Whether it goes exactly as expected, or things don’t turn out exactly how you thought they would, it’s an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life. The best way to prepare is to be educated. In this blog post, I only scratched the surface. I’ve helped parents around Atlantic Canada, from Halifax to Fredericton and Saint John to Prince Edward Island (PEI), prepare for their birth experience. Parents who take my Empowered Birth Prenatal Course leave excited and ready for their birth journey. I am also with them every step of the way!