Many expecting moms are shocked to find out that early labor can take anywhere from several hours to a couple of days. In this phase of childbirth, contractions are random, usually mild, and may start and stop. Most women can be easily distracted in this phase and can continue walking and talking during contractions. If they do pause during the contraction to take a couple breaths, they can usually pick up right where they left off once the contraction passes.
Because early labor can take so long, it can often be a discouraging and confusing time for a pregnant woman who is ready to meet her baby. Additionally, she may wind up going to the hospital too early and either get sent home or be hit with unnecessary interventions.
Therefore, it’s important to have an early labor plan full of things you can do at home or out of the hospital. Start thinking now about some activities you can do when contractions start that will relax you, distract you, and get your body ready for active labor and then write them down. To help you, here’s a list of 35 things to do in early labor, beginning with the most important thing.
If you only do one thing in early labor, RESTING should be it. If it’s during the night, lay in your bed, close your eyes and sleep as much as possible. If it’s during the day, nap when you can and at least lay down if you can’t sleep. If you get up to do a different activity that’s fine, but rest again afterward. Conserving energy for active labor is the name of the game so never push your body when it’s telling you it’s tired.
There’s nothing I find more relaxing for my body than to do gentle stretches and work out any tension I may have in my muscles. What a great way to start out the laboring process!
3. Spinning Babies
SpinningBabies.com has great information and exercises for optimal baby positioning both in pregnancy and in labor. Particularly if early labor has been going on for quite some time or it has lots of starts and stops, it may be that baby is in a funny position and needs a little adjusting. For early labor I generally recommend the side lying release and the forward leaning inversion. Make sure to thoroughly read the instructions and have a friend help you do them.
4. Pamper Yourself
Early labor is a great time to do a little pampering. Whether it’s your nails, your hair, a sugar scrub, a facial mask or your makeup, it can be a soothing and distracting activity and it may give you a boost of energy as you progress. Of course, no one is going to care how you look in active labor but if it’s a fun way for you to spend early labor, go for it!
5. Listen to a Hypnobirthing track
Hypnobirthing is a method of childbirth that relies on positive imagery and guided relaxation throughout labor. Listening to a track will help you visualize your upcoming birth and mentally prepare for a calm, relaxed labor.
6. See a chiropractor
A chiropractor who is certified in the Webster Technique can help align the pelvis, and adjust the tailbone and pubic bone so that the birth canal is easier to navigate for the baby. This can lead to quicker, easier birth and is certainly worth your while. So if you can, see a chiropractor once a week from 36 weeks on and ask them if it would be ok to pop in when early labor begins if it happens to be during business hours. They are usually more than willing!
7. Pack your bag with last minute things
Whether it’s your phone charger or toiletries, there may be a few things you still need to put in your hospital bag. Early labor is a good time to gather everything and set it by the door so that you’re ready to go once things pick up.
8. Drink red raspberry leaf tea
Red Raspberry Leaf Tea is said to be a uterine tonic which allows contractions to be more effective when labor begins. Drinking it in early labor may give your uterus a boost and help the rest of the process to go more smoothly.
9. Look at your Calendar
When contractions begin, you may wish to take a good look at your calendar and take mental note of any appointments or events you have coming up in the next couple days so that you can quickly cancel them if labor picks up.
10. Go for a walk
Walking is so good for baby positioning because it keeps the pelvis moving, allowing baby to find the best fit. It is also one of the best ways to bring on longer, stronger, and more frequent contractions. So whether it’s at the mall, at a favorite park, or just around your home, it’s certainly something that should be included in your early labor plan.
If you’re a believer, prayer is a great way to spend time in early labor. It will allow you to labor in peace and not in fear, knowing that God has perfectly planned out the birth of your baby and is with you every step of the way. Consider listening to the Childbirth in the Glory CD to guide your prayer time.
12. Watch a movie
If you can’t sleep during early labor, you can at least lay down and distract yourself with a favorite movie to pass some time. Be sure, however, that it’s a light hearted story that will boost your mood and keep you relaxed rather than a drama that may introduce fear or sadness.
13. Go out to eat
Sometimes you just need to have a little fun in early labor and going to your favorite local restaurant is a great way to do that. You can take your mind off the contractions and enjoy being served a meal with nothing to clean up afterwards. It’s a perfect way to pass the time.
Yoga not only relaxes you, but it also helps open your hips and pelvis and teaches you to breathe through discomfort, a skill you will soon be using! There are so many great options on YouTube for late pregnancy yoga. Find a couple favorites and have them ready for whenever early labor starts!
15. Date night
Early labor just might signal your last chance for a date night for awhile, so take the opportunity while you can. Soak up as much time together as possible and truly enjoy the person you will be parenting with. Your lives are about to change forever after all!
One of the best ways to work out the nervous energy that often comes with early labor is to clean and it can give you peace of mind knowing that your house is ready to bring baby home to. Just remember that golden rule we talked about earlier; conserve your energy and rest when you can!
17. Go shopping
Doing a little shopping in early labor is a win win. You are given a nice distraction from contractions but you also get a good walk in. And maybe you have a few last minute things you want to grab for yourself or your baby before the birth. It will be awhile before you head to the store again.
18. Miles Circuit
The Miles Circuit is another great tool for baby positioning. If contractions don’t seem to be progressing, they stop and start, or they are very close together but mild, try going through this circuit and see if it makes a difference. Once baby is positioned correctly, active labor may begin.
Even if you don’t go out to a restaurant, it’s still vitally important to eat and drink in early labor. You may not feel like eating a whole lot when you’re in active labor but you will need the calories to undergo the hard work of childbirth so if you’re hungry, eat! Focus on good proteins and carbs and shy away from fatty or processed foods that may upset your stomach later.
20. Do a puzzle
Puzzles are a beautiful way to let your mind run as you process everything you’re going through. Bonus points if you sit backward on a chair while you do the puzzle to keep your hips open which gives room for baby to move down.
21. Finish any last minute projects
Maybe you were really hoping to organize the junk drawer, update your new budget, or learn how to set up the baby’s pack-n-play before the birth. Early labor is a great time to check a few things off your list if they are occupying your mind. Of course it’s not the time for anything too in-depth or physically tiring but small tasks here and there can be wonderful.
Going up and down the stairs opens the pelvis asymmetrically which can aide in baby positioning and bring on stronger contractions. Take two stairs at a time or go up and down sideways alternating which leg is leading for some variation.
There is no better way to naturally reduce stress than laughter and because stress can delay, slow down, or even stop labor altogether, laughter truly can be the best medicine! Be intentional about laughing, tell jokes, or listen to a funny podcast. Active labor may be just around the corner!
24. Bake cookies
Baking cookies can be such a yummy distraction and if you happen to begin active labor before you eat them, your birth team would love for you to bring them along. Trust me 😉
25. Dance party
Dancing is a fun way to exercise, it’s a big stress reliever, and it’s a great way to get baby positioned properly for birth. And if you have toddlers or older children, having a dance party with them can be a sweet memory to make before they meet their new sibling.
When you have a burst of energy in early labor, doing lunges is a terrific way to use it. Side lunges, forward lunges, reverse lunges, lunges on a chair, whatever kind of lunge you want! They all open the pelvis asymmetrically which you know by now is the key to optimal baby positioning.
It’s true. The same thing that got the baby in there can get the baby out. Cuddling, kissing, and sex all help increase the production of oxytocin which is the love hormone AND the labor hormone. So as long as your water hasn’t broken, intimacy is a great idea especially since it may be the last chance you get for a couple months.
28. Take a bath/shower
Hydrotherapy is a brilliant labor tool. It’s relaxing and is a great way to manage pain. You may find getting in the shower allows you to labor at home a bit longer so that when you get to the hospital or birth center, you are further into the birthing process and you’re also nice and clean!
29. Write a letter to your baby
I can’t think of a sweeter thing to do in early labor than to write a letter to the baby you’re about to meet. Not only will this make an awesome gift for your child one day, but it will also remind you why you’re excited to go into labor in the first place. Yes, childbirth is difficult but it’s also the most worthwhile thing in the world. Giving life to a new baby is such a gift!
30. Bounce on an exercise ball
Anytime you want to sit down for a bit in early labor, sit on an exercise ball instead of a couch or chair. This forces you into an upright, forward-leaning, open pelvis position which, you guessed it, is great for baby positioning! Additionally, it’s often the most comfortable place to sit in late pregnancy and it’s so much easier to get on and off of than a couch.
31. Eat dates
Current research shows that eating six dates a day in the last month of pregnancy can lead to shorter labors, fewer inductions, and a reduced need for pain medication. This may be because dates can have an oxytocin-like effect on the cervix which helps prep for an easier labor. Eat them on their own, include them in a protein ball, or mix them in your smoothie. If nothing else, they’re a yummy, nutritious snack!
32. Talk about your feelings
Many women experience a whole host of emotions in early labor. From anxiety about labor to excitement about the baby to a hesitation about becoming a mom, there’s a lot going on. Particularly, if you are feeling discouraged about how long early labor is taking, it’s important to vocalize those emotions with a trusted member of your birth team who will validate and encourage you. Believe it or not, these difficult feelings can impact labor so it’s essential to process them fully.
33. Play a game
I always carry a deck of cards in my doula bag in case I find myself supporting a client in early labor. For the most part, this is a relaxation and distraction technique but a little healthy competition is always a great way to bond with the people you have invited to be with you in labor.
34. Do a normal day
If contractions are still random and mild, your best option may just be to carry on with your day as normal. Go to work, go get groceries, keep your evening plans, and pretend early labor isn’t happening. This can keep your spirits up and allow you to continue waiting patiently for active labor to begin.
35. Keep it quiet
And last but not least, consider keeping the news that you’re experiencing early labor a secret from people who are not on your birth team. The more people who know that things have begun the more texts you will receive asking for an update. And if things haven’t picked up when they ask how it’s going, you may feel tempted to be disappointed and they may make you wonder if something could be wrong. In reality, early labor is a process and can take awhile, so there’s no reason to add other people’s negative input to your plate.
Early labor can be emotionally taxing but remember, you are doing such a great job mama and your body knows exactly what to do! I hope this list helps you visualize a relaxing and sweet early labor phase and empowers you to wait patiently. When active labor begins, you will have had so much practice and you will feel prepared and ready to meet your sweet baby. You’ve got this mama!