Many women approach the months leading up to childbirth with a mixture of apprehension and excitement. And then, they hear all the horror stories of extremely long labors, particularly for first-timers, and things get pretty daunting. But how long is "long," exactly? The average length of birth for first-timers is 24 hours and more. And while everyone's labor is very different, the one thing that remains constant is that the mindset can make a huge difference. 24 hours can feel like 10 or it can feel like 48. So what are some things we can do to make the long hours of labor and delivery not feel like an eternity?
Here are six tricks to help you stay in the flow so you can pace your way through labor:
1. Ignore your labor. We can’t stress enough the importance of ignoring your labor until it forces you to pay attention to it. Try not to focus on how long it’s been or how much longer it’s going to be. No need to rush to your birth place (unless there’s a medical reason), or call everyone you know. Instead, try to enjoy your birthday party! The more you can shift focus away from the “whens” and towards surrendering to the unknown, the more you can remind yourself that what you are feeling is normal. The more you can take one contraction at a time, the more you'll realize that they are happening for you (not to you) so you can meet your baby. Not only will it make your labor feel shorter, but it can actually make it go shorter!
2. Go the eff to sleep. Most labors begin in the middle of the night. We know when labor starts it's super exciting, so this is easier said than done, but please, please, please try to stay asleep. Since you don’t know how long labor will last, this is a good way to prevent against exhaustion! Even if you can't actually sleep, keep your eyes closed and the lights out, try to find a comfortable position (even if it’s not in bed), and rest between the contractions. Prepare ahead of time by finding some soothing music or meditation tracks you can listen to if you are having trouble remaining calm.
3. Forget about the numbers! We know once the contractions start, the impulse is to start timing them. But put those phones away! Until contractions are coming at a very regular pattern and frequently (which you will be able to tell without an app!), there is no point in timing them. It is not giving you any information. It is only making you focus more on “when is the next contraction starting?” or “when do we go to our birth place?” Wait until it is obvious contractions are frequent (every couple of minutes) and strong (you're not talking through them).
4. Make it a date! If you have a partner and this is your firstborn, this is the last time it will be just the two of you, so make it a date and enjoy each other’s company! If you’re single, well enjoy yourself and have some fun -- it’s a birthday party after all. For most first-timers, the early labor phase is what takes the longest. The good news is, this is typically when the contractions are the least intense, and you have the most break time in between. Plan ahead for some fun things you might like to do before the contractions get too intense. You can go on a walk, go out to dinner, watch movies or a favorite tv show, cook, bake a birthday cake, work on an art project, dance, and, of course, sleep and rest.
5. Do your thang! Eat, drink, pee, poo throughout your labor! Choose energy-rich foods like bone broths, eggs, oatmeals, and nut butters and have some snacks around for when you are no longer hungry but need some extra umph (like smoothies and granola bars). Make sure to stay extremely hydrated with electrolyte drinks like coconut water. Another favorite is to mix water with lemon juice, sea salt, and maple syrup. And don’t forget to clear out your system! The more you can get out, the more room for baby to come down!
6. Use those rest periods! Instead of thinking about moving from contraction to contraction, think about going from rest period to rest period. So when a contraction ends, instead of focusing on how uncomfortable it may have been and fearing when the next one will come, check in and ask yourself, “what am I feeling now?” There is a whole lot less sensation between the contractions than during them, so really use that time to rest and conserve energy. It will help you be ready to cope with the next contraction.
Happy Birth Day Party!
Photography courtesy of Abbie Martinsen Photo.