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Early Labor During Pregnancy: Some Important Lessons

Early labor, often called the latent stage of labor, is in many ways the most exciting. Finally, it appears your waiting is at an end and it’s time for the baby to arrive. But early labor is often “false labor” that occurs before the actual labor process begins. So how can you tell the difference? Here's what to expect.

First of all, it’s common for a woman to experience Braxton Hicks contractions during her last few weeks of pregnancy. During these contractions, the uterus will tense and lift. These contractions aren’t usually painful, and a change in position – either lying down if you’ve been up and about or getting up and about if you’ve been lying down – will cause them to stop. They aren’t usually consistent and begin to fade away over time. However, these contractions are important because they signal that your uterus is preparing for the important job that lies ahead.

When early labor begins, you’ll likely find yourself excited. Many women are energetic and talkative during this phase, and some want to eat or move around as much as possible. This stage of labor can stop and start over the course of several days – as long as your contractions are mild, and you can talk and work through them, do so. Soon enough, you’ll find that the contractions demand your full attention – this is when the second or active stage of labor has begun.

As long as your contractions allow, continue with your normal activities. This is a good time to eat and drink if you’re hungry. Staying hydrated will help your pain tolerance and staying fed will improve your endurance and help keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout delivery. Of course, it’s a good idea to eat foods that are easy to digest and many women prefer bland foods. This isn’t a good time for spicy foods or a heavy meal – light snacking is a better choice at this time.

In addition, try to stay active – consider taking a casual stroll if you feel up to it. You can shower or even take a bath, as long as your amniotic sac hasn’t broken. Many women find that being in a shower causes them to relax, and the contractions may even stop. If that’s the case for you, enjoy your break and know that your body is still doing the preparatory work for your delivery.

On the less pleasant side, some women experience diarrhea during this stage of labor, while others may experience vomiting. Both are normal responses to the increased hormone levels your body is producing. And while most women think shaking is something that only happens during stress or transitions, you may actually find yourself shaking as labor begins as well.

Unless you’ve been specifically instructed to do so, early labor isn’t the time to call your health care provider or head to your birthing facility. You’ll need to wait for active labor, which you can recognize by the fact that your contractions demand all your attention, you need to concentrate to relax during contractions, contractions are closer together and coming at regular intervals, and the contractions are lasting longer.

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