Staying at Home in Early Labour

A study published in 2013 found that earlier admission to hospital (before the cervix has dilated to 5cm) was strongly associated with caesarean birth. An article, published in 2012, trying to understand why women frequently go to hospital early in labour (often to be sent home again), found amongst other themes, that often women wanted the reassurance that they were actually in labour. They were unclear about when they should start heading there and were agitated at home, thinking about the impending journey. Some had pressure from partners, mothers, friends etc. to get going.

Because we don’t experience birth in our everyday lives anymore, often women, and those around them, don’t have much confidence that they’ll be able to recognise the signs of labour or figure out how quickly it is progressing.

If you and your partner both begin asking your friends and relatives who have had a baby what their experiences of early labour were, you’ll quickly see that they all vary enormously. This is because every woman is different; every baby is different and so every labour will be unique.

You will also probably come to realise that this stage can go on for quite some time. You may gradually notice that contractions are taking up more of your attention but often you’ll actually be able to carry on pretty much as normal, using everyday coping strategies to deal with them. At this point you should try to rest, have a bath and sleep – this stage usually isn’t high drama like we see in films and on television! Also, if you break down the time in an hour that contractions are taking-up in early labour, it’s only roughly 12 minutes to deal with which leaves you 48 minutes to do something else!

Partners need to understand that women can seem excitable, agitated and a bit needy at this point, so it’s your job to do whatever she wants really – just be loving and nurturing and provide that safe environment. If you’re feeling tense and jumpy try really hard not to show it, go out into the garden to jump up and down or call a friend to let off steam if you need to.

In early labour it’s important to rest, eat little and often and stay hydrated as it could be some time before the baby is born. It is important to reserve energy and stock-up on fuel for the labour journey. Sitting or lying down is good, more activity can come into play as labour progresses. This is the time to do things like sort your DVDs out, put photos in albums or catch up on TV programmes you’ve recorded.

You could go for a walk if you feel like it:  This may help distract both of you and make things feel a bit more normal – getting out of the house, seeing other people about.   Not a 5 mile hike, more of a gentle potter around the park or maybe to the local pub for a spot of lunch.

A recent Cochrane Review on the benefits of continuous support in labour pointed out that historically women have been cared for and supported by other women during labour & birth. Have a think now about who might be able to support you at home during this early stage.  Do you have a female friend experienced in giving birth that you could call up to talk through what’s going on and who might help you to stay calm?  Or have you considered hiring a doula? This is the stage where she would come to your home to support you.

If you’re anxious, you can always call the hospital or birthing centre and speak to a midwife on the telephone to put your mind at rest. 

Knowing that contractions will be coming one every 2 minutes and lasting for a minute or longer just before the baby is born may give you some perspective on your labour when it’s just starting.

Partners often want to know an exact indication of when they should begin the journey to the hospital or birthing centre:  5-1-1: when contractions are coming around every 5 minutes, lasting for around 1 minute and if this has been the pattern for about 1 hour.  Babies are not born when contractions are this far apart, so if you’re happier at home stay there.  Just keep an eye on what’s happening contraction-wise and be ready to go to the hospital or birthing centre once they’re coming more often than every 5 minutes.

Most importantly, partners should listen to the woman in labour.  If she’s been relaxed and happy to be at home and suddenly feels she needs to get going, she probably does!


by Louise Daniels.

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