What It’s Like to Be In Early Labour

At the start of the first stage, contractions may be infrequent or far apart –  this is considered early labour or the latent phase.

When labour first begins, you may feel mild to moderate, period-like cramps which soon become distinct contractions. At first, there could be 20-30 minutes between each one with the intensity and length of contractions building gradually over time. As a general guide, you will dilate from 0-5cm during this phase.

Each contraction starts out slowly, peaks in strength, and then tapers off. There should be a clear break between each contraction for you to rest. The pain shouldn’t be constant.

You might notice a ‘show’ during early labour which is the mucus plug from your cervix being dislodged in preparation for birth. It may look thick, stringy, and be tinged with blood. Your waters may also break during this first stage.


Advice for early labour

When you first realise you’re in labour, you might feel excited, nervous, or relieved. You’re going to meet your baby soon which is great news but exactly how soon is anyone’s guess. It could be hours away or it might be days.

Some people like to go for a walk or watch a funny movie to get the endorphins flowing. You should have something small to eat, keep your fluids up, and make sure you have everything ready. Now is also the time to put any last-minute must-haves in your hospital bag.

At the start of labour, it’s best to rest! Labour can be a marathon, not a sprint. The more you relax in between contractions, the more energy you’ll have for later on. If it’s night time, you should try to get some sleep before your contractions ramp up.


Tips for long labours

A long early labour phase can be extremely tiring. If you aren’t able to sleep or lie down, you might find it helpful to:

  • Have a long, warm bath.
  • Receive a relaxing massage from your partner.
  • Try a different position during contractions – kneel on your hands and knees or sit on an exercise ball.
  • Use a wheat pack if you’re experiencing back pain.
  • Try to relax as much as possible in between contractions.

Remember to call your LMC right away if you think you have meconium in your waters.