In the movies. your water breaks in a huge gush, followed by immediate and painful contractions; then it's a mad dash to the hospital! For most people, the start of labor is a bit less dramatic, and is more of a slow process than a mini-emergency. People usually start feeling contractions (the feeling of your belly hardening) and the contractions are usually irregular or infrequent (anything greater than 4 minutes apart). It can start off with slightly uncomfortable pain, and then get gradually they will get stronger and stronger over time.
The period of time when your contractions are still mild/moderate (when you can talk through them) and are more than 5 minutes apart, is called latent, or early, labor.
Unless someone has a medical indication such as needing to be induced or having their water break before contractions start, the best place to be during early labor is at home! Multiple studies have shown that staying at home in early labor leads to better outcomes for mom and baby, and fewer interventions. You should go to the hospital when contractions are every 4 minutes apart (from the start of 1 contraction to the start of the next contraction), lasting for 1 minute, and having that pattern for an hour.
During early labor it is important to stay calm. People often get really excited or stressed when they start feeling contractions. While it is understandable to have a lot of emotions around the start of labor, it is important to try and not put too much energy into the early part of labor. In fact, it's better to almost ignore that they are happening.
So what can people do to cope in early labor? Here are some tips:
-Sleep! It is important to get as much sleep as you can, and to let your partner sleep too! Usually you will be able to sleep through contractions in early labor, but even sleeping in between is helpful.
-Eat, get a good meal in! Later on in your labor, you likely will not want to eat much, or at all. So try and have a meal with lots of protein and that is easy on the stomach. Be sure to avoid anything too heavy, spicy, or acidic, it will likely upset your stomach even more later on in your labor.
-Listen to music. Make your labor playlist ahead of time, have a nice variety!
-Binge watch your favorite TV show or movie. Especially ones you've seen over and over again - enough to just capture your attention but you don't have to follow along 100% of the time
-Bake cookies (and maybe bring to share with your labor team!)
-Play a board game
-Sit/rock on a birth ball
-Go for a walk: activity can help speed up your labor and get baby in a good position. It is important to balance this with rest though - save your energy!
-Listen to a podcast
Try a bunch of different things and find what works for you!
Do you have a favorite activity from a previous early labor? Let us know!