Updated: Jan 7
Signs of Early Labor
Early labor will unfold differently for everyone. Signs of early labor may come and go. This ebb and flow is a natural part of the process and a form of progress! Let's start by covering some early signs of labor, and likely signs of labor, and then we will dive right into ways to navigate early labor at home and in the hospital.
Signs That Labor is Approaching
Feeling Like Baby Has Shifted or Dropped into a Lower Position
Increase in Nightly Braxton-Hicks Contractions
Restlessness or Insomnia
Extreme Moodiness or Just Feeling
Urges to Clean, Organize, and "Nest"
Increased Discharge (Clear, Pink, or Slightly Blood-tinged)
Loss of The Mucus Plug
Diarrhea, Softer Bowel Movements, or An Increase in Bowel Movements
A Persistent Backache or Backache Take Comes and Goes in Waves
Signs That You Are in Early Labor
Regular Contractions That Don't Go Away with Position Changes
Contractions That Are Getting Longer, Stronger, and Closer Together
Contractions That Require Your Attention
Your Water Breaks
What if signs of early labor go away?
If early labor is displaying itself as a dance that comes only to leave again, it's helpful to take a step back and see this type of early labor, no matter what form it takes on, for what it is: Another Form of Progress!
Many things need to happen in preparation for your baby to be born:
The cervix needs to move from a posterior to an anterior position
The cervix will begin to efface (shorten) and ripen
The body will work to move the baby into an optimal position
The mother also needs to feel safe, ready, and supported
There is more at work here beyond cervical dilation. So, if you find yourself disheartened in the throes of an early labor pattern that comes and goes, I encourage you to draw near to those close to you, take some time for self-care, and know that the emotional state you have entered into is also a form of progress and another step closer to meeting your little bundle of joy!
What to Do in Early Labor
Navigating early labor is an important part of your birth story! Being informed, prepared, and well-supported during early labor (and throughout the remainder of your birth) plays a major role in how things may unfold. Here is a checklist of what to do in early labor that will help prepare you and your partner for the big day. And remember; always listen to your body.
1. Rest, Rest, Rest
Conserving energy for the long haul is one of the single most important things you can do. Birth is usually not a sprint, but more so a marathon. It's normal to feel a burst of excitement and energy in early labor. This is an exciting day and you're going to meet your baby soon! Acknowledge this natural emotion and honor it. Do something upbeat and fun with your partner to mark this transformational time but limit it to under two hours. Make it a point to return to a restful activity.
Listed below are ways to rest in early labor:
Ignore It & Try to Sleep
Rest in Bed and Meditate
Sit on an Exercise Ball While Watching Netflix
Lean Over an Exercise Ball on All Fours
Nap If You Begin to Feel Tired
Have Your Partner or Doula Give You a Massage
Anything That Relaxes You Helps You Rest on a Daily Basis
2. Eat & Drink Up
Eating and drinking throughout labor are critical! Prepare your kitchen and hospital bags ahead of time with nutritionally dense foods for you and your partner. Your body will be working hard, and the appropriate fuel goes a long way. The key here is to mix high, complex carbs with protein-rich foods.
Read below for some food and drink ideas:
Greek Yogurt and Granola
Whole Grain Crackers with Cheese
Bone Broth and Soups
Whole Grain Noodles
Fruit Leather & Jerky
Fruit Smoothie (Add in Peanut or Almond Butter!)
Scrambled Eggs on Toast
Natural Apple Juice and Apple Sauce
Herbal Teas Such as Raspberry Leaf and Nettle, Sweetened with Honey
3. Get Active!
Using gravity to work with your body to help progress things along is a wonderful way to contribute to all the hard work you are doing. It's still important to keep energy conservation in mind here. There are really great ways to utilize gravity in early labor and not exhaust yourself. One way to do this is by rotating between these active, upright positions and the restful activities listed above. A good time frame to start with is changing every 30 minutes. Many of these are things you may have covered in a childbirth class or with your doula in at-home prenatal visits. And, as always, listen to your body.
Slow Dancing or Swaying
Lunges for 3 Contractions on Each Side (Like These!)
Making Figure 8's on an Exercise Ball
Have a Partner or Doula Assist in Climbing Stairs
Take a Walk at a Nearby Park or Through Your Neighborhood
Putting It All Together
To make your customized plan, download this free early labor guide printable and create your early labor guide. Rotating between resting, eating & drinking, then being active can help optimize your energy levels for the long run and help work with your body as labor progresses.
Labor unfolds differently for everyone. It's part of the beauty in it! Allow your story to emerge, progress and blossom on your body and your baby's own timeline. You are strong and courageous, and I believe in your ability to do this!