Am I in labor? As this classic scene from Friends illustrates, this is exactly what happens when a woman goes into labor: She feels a twinge of what may be a contraction and that means labor has started. It’s time to panic! The baby is coming. NOW! There will probably not be any time to get out the door to a hospital or birth center, so that means anyone near her must become an instant expert on delivering babies. Oh, and, not to mention the mess!
You can always trust your Friends, right?
Well… maybe not in this instance. Let’s talk about what labor, particularly the beginning stages, really looks like.
In many cases, deciphering the beginning of labor is not quite so straightforward. Especially if you’re a first time mom that has never experienced a contraction, it can be difficult to know when your Braxton Hicks contractions, which can become more frequent near the end of pregnancy, stop and when real contractions begin. You may also experience Prodromal labor for several days before you are in the throes of active labor.
Prodormal Labor, also known as false labor, produces contractions that feel like stronger Braxton Hicks. But, unlike true labor, these contractions are irregular. They may show up at the same time each day, and last for just a few hours, disappearing as quickly as they arrived. The length of each contraction will also vary. In true labor, contractions will not go away. Instead, they will become stronger, longer, and closer together.
This false labor can be confusing and emotionally draining! But, take heart, if you experience Prodromal labor, all that work is not in vain. It can help to begin the process of softening and dilating your cervix, which may in turn cause you to lose part of your mucous plug – a sign that true labor is coming! There’s certainly nothing false about the bloody show.
So, what can you do if you’re experiencing false labor? Take a hint from your body: just as it’s practicing for the rigors of labor, you can practice your coping mechanisms, breathing, and relaxation techniques. It may also be a good time to double that you have everything packed and ready to go, or to simply sit back, rest, and enjoy some time to yourself before you begin your transition into motherhood.
When real labor begins it’s also not usually the immediate emergency situation it can be made out to be on TV or in the movies. During the early stages of labor, you will likely have time to labor at home, take a shower, or even get some time to rest before heading out the door to the hospital or birth center. Of course, there can be a lot of variability, but an average length of labor for first time moms is between 10 to 20 hours and generally progresses more quickly if you have already given birth vaginally. So, there’s no need to start boiling water or cutting sheets at the first sign of a contraction. If you are at all confused about whether or not you are in labor, you can always give your doctor or midwife a call; they will be able to answer any questions you have and help you assess if it’s time to come pay them a visit.
And of course, one thing you can always be sure of when it comes to your labor, just like your Friends, your doula will be there for you.