Early Labor Tips for Couples
Updated: Aug 26
"Labor has begun! Or has it? Maybe?"
I'm pretty sure this was verbatim the conversation between Ben and I during every one of my early labors. Not every early labor will be like mine (my early labors typically lasted 12-18 hours), but I would say that most begin with a big, giant question mark.
Here's a link to my previous blog about how to determine if you're actually in labor. Check it out so you know the signs of real labor!
Once you're sure that this is the real deal, here are some tips for both mom AND dad for how to handle early labor with ease!
Tips for Mom:
1. Go to the hospital at the right time
This is a big topic that is its own lesson in our Birth Class for Couples! We've also covered this topic in a few different posts on Instagram (here is one). When you go to the hospital depends on your health, baby's health, your past labor history (precipitous birth, VBAC) & whether your water broke early or not. We won't go into depth on those topics because they are quite nuanced and specific (and of course, we won't give medical advice).
For the average, low-risk mom, laboring at home during early labor is not only a reasonable option, but it is, in our opinion, the best option. Laboring at home gives you access to comfort, food, the ability to do & move however you want, and the option to rest. Once you get to the hospital, you'll be poked, prodded, talked to, told what to do/what not to do & in an uncomfortable environment. This is why sometimes you hear of moms whose labors were progressing well and then stall once they get to the hospital. Oxytocin levels are sensitive to the feelings of safety and calm in mom. A disruption in either one of those can cause oxytocin levels to drop & labor to stall out.
So you may be wondering - what is the right time?
The right time is *usually* when:
Your contractions are around 4-5 minutes apart, lasting around a minute for at least an hour
You're unable to talk through contractions
Your focus & attention is internally focused
You don't laugh at jokes (Ben said that when I hit active labor, I got annoyed more easily)
YOU feel like it's time to go. This is a gut instinct that shouldn't be ignored. Your contractions may be 10 minutes apart, but if you feel out of control & like you need to get to where you will birth... GO! You know your body best.
According to a Cochrane meta-analysis of 25 studies, being upright & walking during early labor can shorten your labor, reduce your c-section risk, & will lessen the chance that you'll need an epidural.
This is pretty simple - just walk! If you don't have a safe or comfortable place to walk, even moving around in your house, dancing (with hip sways) or stepping on & off a stool can bring the same benefit.
3. Balance activity and rest
Be sure not to overdo it with the walking/activity though! It's JUST AS important to rest. Resting during early labor ensures that you'll have enough energy for active labor & birthing. While some labors are quick, most are actually slower than most moms realize (12+ hours). It's highly unlikely that you'll feel like sleeping during active labor or transition.
I have heard many doctors recommend taking a Benadryl or other sleep aid to help you sleep during early labor, especially if it hits in the middle of the night. I cannot explicitly recommend this, but I do see the benefit in doing so if you're having a hard time sleeping. Ask your doc!
Eat a high-protein & filling meal during early labor. Some hospitals do not "allow" you to eat and drink during labor (allow is in air quotes because you are allowed to do whatever you want. However, many will strongly discourage it and will withhold food and even water from laboring moms. This is another large topic that we discuss at length in our Birth Class for Couples).
I would avoid anything overly fatty or spicy, as some moms vomit during labor. A filling soup or big sandwich are great options!
Choose activities that distract you from labor! It's easy to get hyper-focused on every contraction, wondering if things are progressing. Focus on contractions can also make them more painful.
Early labor is a great time for distraction. I know moms that choose to pretend like they're not in labor yet and go about their normal activities. Obviously, this would be hard to do once active labor hits, but usually the contractions during early labor are mild & spread out enough that it's totally doable.
What do I recommend as distraction? Clean the house, make food, go shopping, walk the mall, go see a movie, go out to eat, get some work done on your computer, binge watch a favorite TV show - whatever will help you get your mind off of things. I've done literally all of the things listed above during early labor. For me, activities out of the house are the most effective at distracting me.
6. Personal care
Another good thing to do during early labor is take a shower. Pretty straightforward. Just be sure to pack those toiletries in your hospital bag afterward. I also recommend putting your hair up in a braid or bun - I did space buns for one birth & pigtail braids for my other two.
Tips for Dads
Here's an Instagram post we did on this topic, too!
1. Don't freak out
Don't jump into action, packing the car at the first hint of a contraction. Labor is a marathon, and it's best to follow mom's cues and stay calm.
2. Stay calm, stay engaged
Speaking of staying calm, we will say it again! STAY CALM. You can have a major impact on the environment for mom. Moms in labor will often mirror the emotions their partners are projecting. So even if mom is the one freaking out, you can stay calm and in control to help her get centered & at peace.
Also, stay engaged with her labor. That doesn't mean that you sit, staring at her for hours on end. (please don't do that haha) One practical way you can stay engaged is timing contractions every so often. We have a video on how to do that here. No need to time contractions the whole time - we recommend periodically tracking contractions and also any time there's a major change in her coping or if you think to yourself hmm, these are coming quicker than earlier.
You can also remind her to eat and drink - this is probably one of the most important things you can do! Her hydration & energy levels can have a direct impact on how her birth progresses.
3. Clean the house & get some food prepped
This is self-explanatory! But I promise, the work is worth it. When you come home, exhausted, with a newborn in tow - the last thing you want to do is walk into a house that's messy. Go ahead and clean the bathrooms, give the floors a good sweep/vacuum, wipe down the kitchen & clean out the refrigerator for the food that friends and family will (hopefully) bring once you get home.
You can also prep some food for her. Above we described the types of food that are good to eat during early labor. The main thing is to avoid overly spicy or fatty foods.
4. Encourage rest, activity & distraction
As we wrote above, finding the balance between rest & activity is important for mom during early labor.
Help her get comfy in bed. Bring her a hot pad or a cold washcloth & make sure her water bottle is nearby. You could also turn on some music & diffuse lavender essential oil to create a relaxing environment.
Also, you can go on walks with her. Slow dance. Silly dance. Walk the mall if it's cold. Any of these are beneficial!
Rotate back & forth and be aware of how she's feeling. If she's feeling tired, let her rest. If she's having a hard time resting, have her get up and move!
Also, you can help distract her from her contractions. Consider taking her to a movie, pulling out a fun board game, eating out at her favorite restaurant - whatever works to help her cope.
5. Use labor coping techniques
Speaking of coping, early labor is a good time to utilize the labor coping techniques we cover in our Birth Class for Couples. Our students unanimously agree that these lessons are among their favorites. Ben and I give you hands-on practice with the most effective massage & pain-relieving techniques for partners to use during labor.
There's nothing worse than seeing your loved one in pain and being unable to do anything to help. The techniques & tips we teach in our birth class will help you know exactly what to do to help mom in her time of need. Sign up for our on-demand birth class and be prepared!
6. Go through hospital bags & ensure baby carseat is installed
Be sure that you go through your hospital bags & make sure the carseat is installed during early labor. It's helpful to write down a checklist of items you need to grab for the hospital before labor begins so you don't forget anything. And dads, don't make mom pack your hospital bag for you. Think through what you'll need and plan for a multi-night stay, just in case. And snacks. SNACKS! Pack lots of snacks!
I hope these tips are helpful for you as you prepare to welcome your new baby into the world. It's such an exciting time and we wish you the best!