There is nothing quite as exciting as experiencing those first few consistent contractions. You wake up your spouse, you call your doula, you call your parents and the in-laws because you are so excited and ready for this baby!
It’s GO time!
… or is it?
Did you know many hospitals and birth centers don’t want the laboring mother to arrive unless she is in active labor.[i] To put a number on that, usually they want you to be at least 4 centimeters dilated with an active contraction pattern. But how will you know if you are in active labor or not?
If you are still feeling excited and giddy about being in labor, you are probably not in active labor.[ii]
One common rule of thumb is 4-1-1 or 5-1-1, each birth location has different preferences. This means your ACTIVE labor contractions should be coming every 4 to 5 minutes apart, the contractions should last for a minute, and this should be consistent for over an hour.[iii] Following this suggestion is a great way to avoid arriving to the hospital too early in labor.
EARLY LABOR may look like this…
So what should you do during this time? I have 3 suggestions: eat, drink, sleep!!! Seriously! Fuel your body and rest up so you have the energy to push a baby out![iv]
So now that you know what early labor looks like, how will you know when your body is in active labor? Often times there is a noticeable shift. Perhaps you have been resting and you bolt up because THAT contraction felt different! (It probably still isn’t time to go to the hospital, because remember that was just 1 contraction, we are looking for an hours worth of contractions that have that noticeable difference.) Or maybe you have been able to talk with others or at least pay attention to their conversations, but now you have to close your eyes and tune out the noise around you. Whatever it is there is a noticeable shift in your presence.
Some clear signs of ACTIVE LABOR are…
Early labor is commonly the longest part of your labor, so take the time to enjoy these last few moments while your baby is still nestled warmly in your womb. Once you enter active labor, find your rhythm; don’t become fearful when things intensify. Instead, calm your mind, quiet your birth space and take each contraction one at a time!
Some great ways to help you prepare for an AMAZING birth is to take a comprehensive birth class and hire a doula! After taking a class, you will feel more knowledgeable about the labor and birth process and you will feel confident in the decisions you make because you will be educated on the benefits and negatives. Hiring a doula will take the pressure off of you to remember everything. She will provide physical comfort, and she can remind you of ways to cope in early and active labor.
If you are looking for a comprehensive birth class in Winchester, Virginia, please click here to find out when the next class series starts.
If you are looking to hire a doula to help with your AMAZING birth, please click here.
[i] Under normal circumstances women are encouraged to arrive in active labor, but this is not always the rule. Please speak with your care provider to know exactly what they would like you to do.
[ii] At least for first time moms, many second time moms can sometimes hold that excitement until they are further along in labor.
[iii] 4-1-1/5-1-1 is a very normal representation of active contraction patterns, but there can be variations to this rule. I have seen women who have this contraction pattern but are in prodromal labor – that’s a discussion for another day. I have also seen women whose contractions never came closer than 7 minutes apart and yet she was in transition. The key is listening to your body.
[iv] Even if you are planning on having an epidural, please eat, sleep and rest because your body is working very hard even if you cannot feel it. You want to have the strength to push when the time comes.
I am a birth doula, childbirth educator, wife to an amazing man, and mother to four beautiful girls. I love serving families as they bring new life into the world!
Serving Virginia's Shenandoah Valley & West Virginia's Panhandle
Winchester // Stephenson // Stephens City // Strasburg // Berryville // Purceville // Leesburg // Inwood // Gerrardstown // Shepherdstown // Martinsburg // Charlestown // Middletown // Front Royal
Doula // Childbirth Educator // Placenta Encapsulation Specialist