Pregnant pause: Pre-labour can last days, here's 9 tips to help you through
If this is your first baby, pre-labour (the thinning of the cervix before it starts to dilate) has never happened in your body before and may take time - even days! Getting those first few centimetres dilated can be hard work, so you need to conserve your energy. However, you can also get on with your day (or night) as much as is comfortable.
During pre and early labour, contractions are usually short and irregular, between 5 and 30 minutes apart, and about 15-40 seconds long. The contractions may feel like period pains. As labour progresses and your cervix begins to dilate they will become regular, closer and stronger, about every 5-8 minutes lasting 30 seconds, but initially you should still be able to walk through them.
Many of the mums we surveyed for our ebook From Bump to Birth rested during these first hours when contractions were not so intense. Others, however, preferred to keep occupied with housework or walking. One mum-to-be even chose to put together flat-pack IKEA furniture, which she says kept her on all fours and the labour moving along nicely!
Whatever suits you, don’t tire yourself out. Ensure that you have close continuous support, and bring your mobile phone if you go for a walk.
Here are some tips from midwives and other mums:
Relax: Create a warm, comfortable, relaxing environment, dim the lights for a more relaxing atmosphere. If possible disconnect the doorbell, and turn your mobile phone to silent to avoid unwelcome intrusions. Read, listen to music, watch a DVD, anything that helps pass the time.
Rest: Rest in upright, or semi-upright positions. If labour begins at night, try to rest or sleep between contractions. When contractions reach 8 minutes apart it is often uncomfortable to lie, so kneel and lean on your birthing ball, the arm of the couch, or the bed, to rest.
Eat and Drink: Eat light snacks. Drink sips of juice, warm water with honey, or chamomile and raspberry leaf teas.
Empty your bladder: Try and wee every 1-2 hours.
Empty your bowels: As your baby's head moves down into the pelvis it will create room by flattening the bowel. To allow for this, the bowel needs to empty. That is why early, and sometimes later in labour (even in the delivery room), you may experience diarrhoea or an urgent need to poo. While this is completely normal (and your carer has seen it all before!), it's an idea to go now if possible.
Use water: Have long soaks in a full bath of warm - not hot - water in candlelight. The water cushions the contractions. If your waters have broken, take showers. Letting the water beat down on your lower back helps to ease back pain.
Try pain relief: Take paracetamol, use heat pads or put on a heated adhesive bandage (usually used for back pain), and try out your TENS machine.
Stay mobile and change positions: Stay vertical and mobile as contractions move closer together. Sway, rotate your hips and walk. Walking up and down stairs sideways can help get your baby in position for birth. Kneel or squat when you have to rest, or lie on your side. Change position regularly.
Focus on your breathing: Use the breathing techniques you have learned. Otherwise close your eyes, or pick something to look, at and listen to your breath: in through your nose - bringing fresh oxygen to your baby - and out through your mouth, letting go of tension as you exhale. Try 3 seconds on the in-breath, 5 seconds on the out-breath, and then 1-2 seconds of a rest. It can help to touch each of the three sections of a finger while inhaling and exhaling.
Good luck! You’re almost there…You’ll find more tips for birth in our ebook From Bump to Birth.
Louise Ní Chríodáin has co-authored ebook, From Bump to Birth, with Margaret Hanahoe, Assistant Director of Midwifery at the National Maternity Hospital. It’s a no-nonsense companion for pregnancy and labour, packed with essential tips and advice from midwives and mothers. A second book After Birth, a guide to minding mother and baby in the first weeks, will be along shortly. You can find more of their tips and advice on www.bumptobirthtobaby.com