Thankfully new ACOG recommendations have said it is reasonable for early labor to take as long as 20 hours. That may sound unmanageably long but we must remember that early labor contractions are usually quite manageable. They last only around 30-60 seconds, are less intense, and may vary from 5 minutes apart to 20 minutes apart. You may be able to sleep through them or simply ignore most of them and continue with your daily business.
Occasionally this is not the case and contractions can be close together or troublesome enough to prevent sleeping. Perhaps you had to check in at the birth center or hospital earlier than planned due to membranes releasing or other issues. Often walking is suggested to increase the strength of the contractions or a quick shower. Showers at this phase of labor, when kept short, can effectively speed things up. Why? Because it’s relaxing and offers pain control. It’s also done in less than bright conditions and is private. If walking and a shower haven’t quite worked to move on to the next phase my next tip is to get in the bed in a side lying position with a peanut ball or stack of pillows between your legs and the lights off or down low with relaxing music and perhaps your favorite blanket or another comfort item.
Turning the lights off signals to our body to start relaxing and to enter our instinctive brain versus our thinking brain. It is particularly helpful if you attempt to drift off completely between contractions and while having a contraction to focus on opening like a flower or soft warm thoughts of your baby working with you to enter the world. Some women use candles if they are at home for that relaxing feeling and dual aromatherapy benefit. If you’re at a hospital or birth center you can use flameless candles and perhaps have a cotton ball soaked with lavendar or other calming scent for aromatherapy purposes.
Another benefit to keeping the lights low during this phase is to act as a signal to anyone in the room or entering the room that this is a sacred space and a place to respect your labor with silence unless it is absolutely necessary to speak. Even then conversations can be carried on respectfully with lowered voices. If you enact these suggestions and then get up to walk again in the brightly lit hallways or sunshine you will probably find it somewhat jarring. This is why labor may slow or stall when a woman leaves the comfort of her home and heads to her place of birth. It is important to try to recreate that cave-like quiet and serenity to avoid disrupting the hormones further.
Also remember that our bodies, brains, sphincters, and hormones can be shy. A dim room does offer you a sensation of having more privacy and can encourage opening of the cervix. At any rate if labor is taking a long time the darkened room and a moment to sink deeper into your labor and gather strength for the next phase.
All Rights Reserved, Kimberly Sebeck, Knoxville Doula, 2014