MAMA Midwife Kelly Langford, explains some key tips to guide you through the early stages (Please note this article has more relevance for first labours, as usually the pre-labour or early labour is a lot longer for first babies).

It is important to know how to recognise and deal with this early phase of labour, as it can often be the longest part of your labour and birth journey. One of the most disheartening things you can be told when you turn up to hospital ready to have your baby, is that you are ‘not in labour yet’.

So what is early labour and why is it important?

Early labour is like the warm up for your body before a race. If this is your first baby, your cervix throughout pregnancy is probably 1-3cm long, quite hard, shut tight and pointing towards your rectum. It has been this way for close to 10 months, and its job to this point has been to keep the baby safe inside. For the real work of labour to start, your cervix needs to shorten until it is almost paper thin (we call this ‘effaced’), soften, start to dilate, and position itself towards the front of your pelvis. The start of labour is marked in textbooks at 3-4cm dilated, and regular strong contraction. It can sometimes take a few days (and nights) to get to this point, and does so by the uterus contracting.

How do you know you are in early labour, not established labour?

Early labour is marked by contractions that can be irregular or regular, and are usually 5 or more minutes apart. You are usually more aware of your surroundings in early labour, and in this phase the contractions are likely to be affected by your environment (E.g. if you go to hospital in early labour, the contractions may slow down or disappear!).

You may have a ‘show’ (a clear or bloody discharge), and your waters may break in this phase of labour, but not commonly. Contact your health care provider if this happens, to get advice about your situation.

Here are some tips on how to manage this phase of labour:

  • Keep yourself busy if you have the energy to do so. Distraction is the key in early labour, so if this means doing a spot of shopping or going to the movies, go for it!
  • Sleep or rest if you are tired and able. You need a lot of energy in labour, and this is not the time to use it all up!
  • Eat, drink fluids
  • Meditate
  • Use a TENS machine if you have one
  • Go for walks; stairs are particularly effective if you want to bring labour on
  • Bake a cake for your baby (or your midwife!)
  • Check in with your health care provider if you are worried about anything.
  • If you have a vaginal examination in this phase of labour, don’t expect much dilation; remember how much work your cervix has to do to let the baby out of this safe space!

MAMA Says; The longer you ignore your labour, the less exhausting it can be. And don’t worry, you WILL know when you are in active labour!

For more information or to talk to a MAMA Midwife, visit www.midwivesandmothers.com.au or phone on (03) 9376 7474.