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Don’t Panic: 20 Things To Do When Labor Has Started

A lot of this preparation is psychological.

How women face something so important, so unfamiliar, and so amazing with such bravery is truly a wonder, all on its own.

But it’s nature’s way, and so we do, but it’s understandable if you’re a little (or a lot) nervous about what will go down once labor has actually (finally) started.

I’ve given birth twice so far, all in the last handful of years, and the key to my (rather positive) experiences so far was preparation.

A lot of this preparation was mental.

Sure, I stayed fairly fit, gained close to the recommended amount of weight, received all the standard recommended prenatal care, and kept some light movement going throughout my pregnancy, all of which were important.

But I also journaled. I also thought about my own desires and how I would personally be able to best achieve them.

While the childbirth class I took helped me to be able to understand what would go down at the specific hospital where I gave birth, and my doctor could answer some very basic questions about the whole thing, what really ended up being important for me was preparation through reading.

While I read a handful of books on the topic of childbirth, natural birth specifically, Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds by Cynthia Gabriel (Harvard Common Press, 2011) contained many of the ideas that I ended up embracing wholeheartedly, and so I will draw heavily on them here.

Don’t panic: Here are 20 things to do when labor has started.

20 Pretend Like It Hasn’t

Here’s the thing: It might be really easy to get yourself all kinds of worked up once those early contractions have started.

First of all, if you’ve never gone through labor and childbirth before, you really have no great way of gauging how far you still have to go, or how much more intense it will all become before you really have to start doing something about it.

There is often no need, though, to become completely focused on the labor as soon as it has started.

Instead, in my experience, it can be helpful to just sort of go about your day — within reason.

Sure, I stayed close to home, but I also did things like watch TV, take a shower, and even try to sleep.

19 Continue To Hydrate

Labor and childbirth can be incredibly physically challenging affairs. For some, it may sound like an exaggeration, and for others, it may sound like the understatement of the century, as they say.

Think of the uterus, alone, doing all of that intense contracting in preparation to bring the baby out into the world!

On top of this, there’s the physical exertion a mom will have to go through to assume various coping techniques, use movement to get through the pain, and of course eventually push. Believe me: I’ve done it twice.

Diarrhea and vomiting may be involved, too, either right beforehand or during labor.

The point of all of this? Hydration is crucial.

First of all, it will help you to continue to feel well and capable, most likely. And consider the significance of, for example, not having to be tied down to an IV while you labor…

Think frequent small sips, especially if nausea is an issue.

18 Hit The Hay

I believe it was in Gabriel’s awesome book, mentioned in the introduction to this article, that I read the tip that you should even try to just go to sleep — if it’s a time that you normally would be catching some Z’s, at least.

Labor can last for an entire day, or longer, with first-time moms tending to have longer labors than moms experiencing second or subsequent births (a generally accepted fact, which can be confirmed here).

There might still be a whole lotta work ahead, and facing such a challenge while sleep-deprived can make it just so, so much harder.

My first baby was born after the better part of a day of labor, with things getting started noticeably in the afternoon and the grand entrance occurring late in the morning the next day. The hardest part? Being so, so tired.

I went into labor with my second at night, and did try to sleep (but things progressed quickly) by staying in or near my bed and keeping the lights low.

17 Make Those Calls

The helpers I’m talking about notifying here are a very elite bunch.

Are they your employer(s)? No. Are they everyone you know on Facebook? Definitely not.

But your husband? Yes. Your doula, if you’re using one, or some other person you want to actually be there to attend the birth? For sure.

Maybe the point of the text or call is just to let them know to be at the ready, even.

If you are only just starting to experience true contractions, it could still be quite a while before you actually require someone there to support you, or feel that you will soon need to need transportation to the hospital.

With my first labor, for example, I called my husband (the fact that it wasn’t just a text meant something was really up!) and told him to “maybe be ready to come home a little early.”

16 But Keep It On The DL

As hinted at above, one way to avoid panic and generally getting yourself more worked up than you need to once labor starts is to, you guessed it, not get others all worked up when you don’t really need to.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s the law that you keep it a secret. And everyone has a different style and preference, to be sure.

If you want a dozen people incessantly calling and texting you, and potentially showing up at your home or the hospital, by all means, spread the info like wildfire.

But I chose to keep it on the total down-low, with just my hubs knowing what was up until the last minute.

That way, I could skip any extra pressure or distraction, and just let what would be, well, be.

15 Yelp For Household Help

Again on the topic of who to tell once you realize that labor has actually gotten started, there is another set that might need to know, and that is anyone who you will need to rely on for help once you are in the hospital, and during your stay after the birth.

The big one for me and my husband, for example, was knowing that someone would be available to come stay at our house and take care of our first little one for a few days once the second one was born.

Our household helper didn’t live all that far away, so we put off making the call for quite a while, simply to avoid getting anyone too worked up (and to let everyone get some sleep).

Think of your home, pets, children, and other basics.

14 Don’t Get Intense With Techniques (Yet)

I believe it was also in the Gabriel book about natural childbirth, mentioned above in the introduction as well as under “Sources” at the bottom, that it was described: Sometimes women get in such a frenzy about labor actually starting that they start busting out all of those coping techniques and breathing methods — long before they will really need to.

This can lead to exhausting yourself unnecessarily, for one thing.

And then also, believe me, you’ll know when you need to use techniques to cope, and in my experience, the best you can do is try a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and follow your instincts, to help get yourself through it.

13 Gather The Tools

Now, even though it probably won’t be time to bust out all of those coping techniques, as early contractions can be quite manageable (that’s how it was for me, with nature sort of giving you time get ready, and labor slowly building into the intense process that will bring the baby into the world), I would personally say that you could still at least prepare your sort of “toolkit” for labor.

If you’re like me, you’ll already have the important pages in your pregnancy / childbirth book bookmarked and highlighted, the exercise ball inflated and at the ready, and the bags packed.

But I know that not everyone is quite like this.

So, without overworking yourself, you might want to just put in a handy place anything that you plan to use during the harder parts of labor, such as props, water bottles, towels, a printout of coping positions, music, and so on.

Once it’s really time to use them, you might not be able to take the time and energy to gather them up.

12 Get Movin’ And Groovin’

What’s one thing you really might want to start doing right off the bat when you’re in labor?

Moving.

It’s not going for a run, or far out into the wilderness on a hike.

But it’s not sitting on the couch and doing absolutely nothing.

Maybe it’s moving around the house as you usually would, or keeping lose while cooking in the kitchen.

Perhaps it is a light walk, just around the block or staying super close to home (and a bathroom…).

It’s known that keeping upright and moving can help labor to continue progressing, and while it’s not like you need to try to force things along at all, you probably also don’t want to interrupt the natural flow of things.

“Movement is integral to the progress of labour. The movement of the hips while walking helps to guide the baby into the pelvic opening, and the swaying of the hips encourages the baby into the optimal position for birth,” said Doula Julia MacNeil, at TodaysParent.com.

11 Charge your devices

It’s sort of like when you’re about to go on any trip. It may not yet be time to load up the bags and put on your sunglasses, but it is probably time to, say, charge your phone / iPad / camera any other device that you’ll want or need to have with you when you are making your way to the hospital or birth center, and during, as well as immediately after, the birth.

Just don’t forget to also have a charger packed and ready to go, as grabbing that thing from the outlet last-minute will probably NOT be what’s on your mind when it’s actually time to hit the road.

You might need your phone / other devices for contacting relatives, notifying the hospital or your doctor, and of course taking photos and videos!

10 Go Over The 'Go' Plan

I had gone over the plan in my own head a million times. I knew where the bags and items were that needed to come along with us to the hospital. I knew which thing should go in the car at which time, and which shouldn’t (such as items you might need for coping at home).

And I’d mentioned as much to my husband, as well, but right when labor was beginning, and even as the due date neared, I found it was a good time to go over all of this one more time, and then maybe another time after that.

Your husband or other support people will need to be the person to pack up the car when you are in active labor. So I’m just saying I found it helpful to review with them what would need to happen, to ensure those carefully considered supplies made it with us when the time came.

An easy approach might simply be piling the crucial items / luggage by the door.

9 Be In The Moment

Oh, man. How exciting once you feel those first contractions, and you know in your most inner self that it is really, truly, in fact, the REAL thing.

But before you rush off to spread the word (to your closest helpers, in any case), before you get out your labor toolkit, or call the doctor, or do much of anything at all, this mom of two toddlers recommends taking a moment — shoot, maybe even an hour — to just be in the experience.

Enjoy it. Experience it.

So much of this modern life is about sharing. Posting. Snapping. Chatting. ’Gramming.

I — I kid you not — sat down and wrote in my journal.

The contractions were a mere tightening sensation at that point, in the afternoon. I had let the hubs know that it was probably the real deal, so he should leave that phone nearby.

And then I sat and wrote down what I was thinking and feeling, as I had regularly throughout the pregnancy.

What a unique and beautiful moment in life…. And that is an understatement.

8 Make Sure It’s The Real Deal

More than one mom I know in my own life had great confusion about when labor was actually happening.

It’s easy to do!

Plus, even true labor can sometimes start and then stop and then start again.

So before you panic, before you do anything, how about taking some time to confirm that it is really TRUE labor?

Gabriel, who wrote my fave pregnancy book above, as well as any other source I’ve ever encountered, has described TRUE contractions as getting progressively longer, stronger, and closer together.

And this slow build can take some serious time. So, especially for first time moms, it might be wise to hang out somewhere comfortable and cool, near a water bottle and a bathroom, and see how it goes for at least a little while.

That’s what I did!

7 What’s Up, Doc?

So sure, I tend to be all about the emotional side of things, but giving birth is surely a medical experience in some aspects, as well, one that will most likely require the aid of some experienced and carefully trained helpers, often in the form of an OB/GYN and staff at a hospital.

So if you really are in labor, it’s the time to, of COURSE, take heed of any instructions that have been given to you by your very own doctor.

I found that mine weren’t too specific, actually. A first-time mom, an uncomplicated pregnancy, and the goal of going in once I was at least 3 cm dilated (hard to determine when you’ve never done it before, by the way…).

But maybe yours wants you to give her or him a call, notify the hospital, or you need to give the birth center a heads up.

Look back at your notes from your final prenatal appointments to see what you’ve been encouraged to do.

6 Getting The Message To The M.D.

Where I live, most of us go to a fairly large clinic with multiple OBs, and when the big day comes, we show up to the hospital, and whoever is working the Labor & Delivery floor that night is the one to help us welcome our new family members into the weird, wild world.

But I know that not everywhere is like this, and also that some women specifically seek out a smaller practice or even a near guarantee that their doctor will be THE person to deliver their baby.

For those in this situation, once labor is actually started, it may be the thing to do to let the doctor know, especially if that’s what you’ve been told to do ahead of time.

Any questions? Put a call in to the office or answering service — because why not???

5 Getting Ready To Get There

If all goes flawlessly, there will be no obstacles to you getting to the place where you plan to give birth.

But amid all the emotion, all the excitement, and all the overwhelm, when labor has definitely started, it’s a good time, in this mom’s opinion, for someone to make sure the transportation is all lined up so that when you realize, suddenly, that it’s time to GO, you can.

Is there gas in the car? Are there any road work situations that might slow down your progress toward your destination?

What about weather conditions, for those who live places that actually have things like that?

The hubs or your main helper is a great person to take on this task, without troubling you with the nitty-gritty details.

Have a forecast / plan for the next 24-hours or so, to be safe.

4 His Last-Minute Essentials

So, the OB office I went to for both of my pregnancies so far simply handed out something that was labeled a “Pregnancy Checklist.”

I loved it.

It told me at which week of pregnancy I need to do which thing. They totally know how much having a checklist can help to calm any anxiety and simply help people understand the very basics steps they should be taking, such as preregistering at the hospital, scheduling any important appointments and screenings, and so on and so forth.

Well as the due date approaches, it’s time to pack that hospital bag — his, too. The problem? I’ve found that the men in my life, especially my own lovin’ husband, don’t exactly have a bunch of extras. He was hesitant to pack up his sweats and underwear — he kind of need those!

So once labor has started, it’s his turn to (calmly, casually) throw into a bag whatever he will really need to be at the hospital with you: some basic clothing, necessary toiletries and medicines…

Oooh, important note: He might want to bring over-the-counter meds he MIGHT need. My hubs had a headache, and the nurse explained that she couldn’t give him any Advil because he wasn’t a patient. She said she would give him some from her own purse if she had any, but she didn’t, and I didn’t because you can’t take that while preg…

3 Her Last-Minute Essentials

Just like the menfolk, moms will likely have some last-minute items to be put in that trusty hospital go bag.

Maybe it’s makeup. Maybe it’s a phone charger. Perhaps it’s your toothbrush.

Whatever you have had to leave out up until now because you still needed to use it: Put that on in so it’s ready to go.

In my experience, once labor is far enough along that it’s almost (or IS) time to head to the hospital, your mind simply will not be able to shift over to finishing your packing.

Also, though, I didn’t want to have to worry about dealing with this at all, so I just bought duplicates. Basically, I had travel-sized toiletries already packed, and even an extra pouch of makeup and basic toiletries. That was a good call.

And now, packing for weekends away is super easy because I just throw those in the bag!

2 Getting Real About Meals

Okay, so believe me, the early stages of labor, or throughout, can involve some… digestive upset.

There may be nausea. And then there’s the diarrhea.

It’s like, clear the way! This baby is coming.

There’s all that contracting…

The thing is, though, the body still needs energy for the hard work of the labor and birth still ahead.

That’s why early labor may be a good time to continue eating something light – something that won’t be super terrible if you happen to see it again pretty soon, if you catch my drift.

Maybe it’s a bit of fruit juice. Perhaps it’s sucking on a lozenge. The point is, calories can be good to keep coming, as long as they are in the form of something light and simple.

1 Packing Snacks

The first time I gave birth, I found myself desperately buzzing the nurse to bring me toast, something, anything in the middle of the night.

As I began to recover from the hard (and, for me, sleepless) work of labor and childbirth, I got RAVENOUS.

The problem? The kitchen (hospital cafeteria) was closed.

The second time I gave prepared to give birth, I had some crucial stuff packed. I remembered how much I wished we had brought some more snacks along, if not at all for during labor then for the hours that followed.

I even brought a box of my favorite chocolates. Why the heck not?

But not all foods will be able to live in your hospital bag for weeks, so someone will need to put them in there once true labor has begun.

References: Amazon.com/Natural-Hospital-Birth-Best-Worlds

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Don’t Panic: 20 Things To Do When Labor Has Started