Getting through the early stages of labour

Getting through your waters breaking, early contractions, labour signs and when to grab the hospital bag

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Early labour – the signs and what to do

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The time from when you first feel your first contraction, or from when you realise your waters have broken, through to having progressed enough to need to go to hospital can seem like an age. For some women it may in fact take many hours to progress, while for others it may only be a couple of hours before they’re reaching for their hospital bag and likewise the amount of pain women feel in the meantime varies hugely from woman to woman and pregnancy to pregnancy. Here are some ideas you might find useful to get you through this stage.

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  • Get on with the housework – Many women find pre-labour contractions reasonably unobtrusive and many will be able to go about what they were doing before, with interruptions for the contractions. If you feel you have lots of energy then by all means do some light housework or cook as you would normally do, as this will help the time pass more quickly, but be careful not to overdo it, you’ll need your energy for later on.
  • Eat light snacks instead of heavy meals – If contractions are zapping your energy you may get rather hungry. It’s best to avoid heavy meals and foods you find difficult to digest and keep your energy up with light snacks. You can also try adding a teaspoon of honey to warm drinks to perk you up.
  • Try to sleep – If contractions start at night-time or go on into the night then try to sleep. This can be easier said that done we appreciate, as the contractions may be painful and can be more frightening in the quiet of the night. Be reassured that hospital and/or midwife care will be available to you at any time of the day or night. If you can’t sleep then get up and try to distract yourself around the house or with a good film or book.
  • Try a warm bath – If you’re in some discomfort from the contractions then a warm bath might help. Make sure that the bath is not too hot and that there’s someone around to help you in and out of the bath. If you find essential oils such as lavender relaxing then you can add a few drops to the bath. If your waters have already broken then you might be better advised to take a shower rather than a bath – ask your doctor or midwife.
  • Go for a short walk – many women find that walking about helps them cope with contractions and distracts from the pain.
  • Practise timing contractions and your breathing techniques – It can be a good idea to use this relatively calm part of labour to practice some of the techniques you’ve learnt in your antenatal class. Don’t do this obsessively however, if you don’t distract yourself with things besides the contractions then time will drag very slowly.
  • Relax – If a bath doesn’t work for you might find it helps to try gentle yoga stretches, massage, body positions or other gentle movement. Knowing you can easily get in touch with your midwife will help you relax, so keep the number and phone easily accessible.

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