Early labour is known as the latent phase and can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days. You will start to experience contractions, but they won’t necessarily in a continuous pattern. Your cervix will be starting to change, dilating up to approximately 4cm.
It is advisable to stay at home for as long as possible during the early labour. Research shows that arriving at your birth place too early (before you are in established labour) may increase the likelihood of interventions. Here are some handy tips to get you through…
The Latent Phase: “A period of time, not necessarily continuous, when there are painful contractions and there is some cervical change, including cervical effacement and dilation up to 4cm and the onset of active labour when there are regular painful contractions and there is progressive cervical dilation from 4cm.” NICE (2007)
Don’t write down your contractions!
It’s tempting, I know, but it won’t help you relax. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve seen a proud, but exhausted birth partner brandishing a notepad filled with every contraction his partner has had over a three-day period. Your midwife doesn’t need this information. And, you don’t need to concentrate on your contractions. You’ll notice as they become regular and it’s time to contact the maternity unit.
Do anything that will take your mind off the contractions in the early stages of labour. Watch a film – or an entire box set – go out for a walk or start baking!
Eat and drink normally
You need as much energy as possible for labour – which means keeping up a healthy calorie intake. If you can’t manage large meals, eat little and often instead. Focus on good foods where possible, rather than sugary foods that will give you sugar spikes…and the inevitable lows. Also, remember to stay well hydrated.
Consider your natural pain relief options
There are loads of different natural pain relief options for the latent phase of labour. Firstly, water…a hot bath or shower will alleviate aches and pains. A hot water bottle is another option, if you’re relaxing on the sofa. You could ask your partner to give you a massage. Or you could use breathing and relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and visualisation to get you through your early contractions.
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Invest in a TENS machine
This is a great bit of kit. Simply stick the pads to your lower back, then the machine sends out small electrical impulses. These help your body to release endorphins, your body’s natural painkiller. Also, you should know…the earlier you use a TENS, the more effective it is. You can usually hire them from your chosen birth place. It’s worth finding out.
Try not to stress
Research shows that the more relaxed and happy, and the less stressed you (and your birth partner) are in the latent phase of labour, the more likely you are to have a spontaneous delivery. So whether it’s listening to a certain playlist or taking a long relaxing bath do what makes you happy and reduces your stress levels!