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Things to Do in Early Labor (Besides Freaking Out)

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

People often say giving birth is like running a marathon, but what they should really say is giving birth is like running a a maze...while blindfolded. In other words, it’s unpredictable!

The average first-time birth lasts about 17 hours, but it really can be any amount of time. The part of giving birth that usually takes the longest is early labor which can last for hours, or even days. So what do you do between the “it’s happening!” moment and when you go to the hospital or call your midwife?

1. Take a nap

Birth is hard work. One of the best things to do in early labor is to rest when you can. Even if you’re too anxious to sleep, you can lay down and practice some deep breathing.

2. Eat something

This could be especially helpful if you plan on having your baby at the hospital. Depending on the situation or your provider, you might have to limit your food intake once you get there. Once labor really gets going, you might just not want to eat, so be sure to eat something nourishing early on. Just like a marathon, you’re going to want to eat smart. Consider easy to digest foods like fruits and vegetables.

Complex carbs will give you some long-lasting energy. Try granola bars, whole grain cereals and pasta, brown rice, or oatmeal. You’ll also want some protein like peanut butter, yogurt, and lean meats. Keep in mind, these foods should be relatively easy to digest to avoid feeling groggy and bloated so perhaps this isn’t the time for a double bacon cheeseburger, fries and a shake (though that would make a pretty sweet victory meal after baby comes!). Similarly, if beans or something else are known to upset your stomach, maybe don’t.

3. Chiilllll

You tried sleeping and it’s just not happening? Play a game, call friends or family members, watch a movie, do a puzzle, color, fill in the baby book a little more. Do stuff you like doing. This can be a really nice time to bond one last time with the people in your household who were here before the new baby comes. Make some sweet memories together!

4. Do a special project

For those of you who need to do something a little more substantial than chill out, you might like the idea of choosing a project to do ahead of time. By that I mean, before labor starts, choose a special project to wait to do until you’ve confirmed you’re in labor. Popular ideas include baking a birthday cake for Baby, washing and setting up Baby’s crib sheets, washing and putting away Baby’s clothes juuust right in their drawers, getting the finishing touches for the nursery done, writing a letter to Baby, yourself or a partner/loved one, making a meal to eat when you get home/after the birth, or making a thank you basket for your care team.

The goal is not to finish the project, it’s to keep your mind off of those early contractions. So, if you don’t finish it, that’s okay! Put the cake batter or unfrosted cupcakes in the fridge for later. Ask a friend or family member to finish up the laundry for you while you’re out. The nice thing about determining the special project ahead of time is that you can plan for it.

Another helpful thing about the project is that it can give you a clue about how you’re progressing. If during your project, you realize you can no longer concentrate on anything besides your contractions, it might be time to go to the hospital or call the midwife!

5. Go for a walk

Movement is great for early labor! It produces pain-relieving endorphins, uses gravity to encourage Baby to move down, helps Baby get into a good position for birth and it can even speed things up! You could walk around the neighborhood, a shopping center, somewhere significant to you or even around where you’re giving birth.

6. Dance

Dancing has all the benefits of going for a walk, plus the opportunity to make a viral video! But seriously, belly dancing or any other kind of dancing that gets you to squat or move your hips are great!

7. Take a shower or bath

Taking a nice shower of bath* can be very relaxing in early labor. If you enjoy taking a warm or cool shower, do that. Water is great for pain-relief as well. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed with the whole experience, it can feel amazing to just get in the shower, and let the water run over your head and body. You might want some help from your partner or a support person getting in or out or to even stand with you in the shower so that you can lean on them.

It’s also a great idea to consider taking a shower before you head into the hospital if that’s where you’re giving birth. You don’t have to shower or take a bath before heading in, but feeling freshly-showered might help you feel calm and refreshed before going in to have your baby.

So, there are some things you can do in early labor to keep yourself busy. Try one, try them all! I hope they have inspired you to make your early labor experience an enjoyable one.

Have you thought about what you’ll do in early labor or did you do something else if you've had a baby before? Let us know in the comments!

*Check with your provider about the bath if your water has broken.

-Katie Rice, Birth Doula

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