Early labor is that period when the body is gearing up for active labor. It can last for hours, even days, with intermittent contractions that are not too painful nor long-lasting, nor are they regular.
Usually, this stage is longer for first-time mothers than those who've given birth before. Contractions usually last 30 to 60 seconds long, dilating the cervix from 0 to 3 centimeters. Some mothers experience this stage over several days and the contractions are barely noticeable. Others have a more condensed early labor, with contractions that can range from menstrual cramp-like to more intense.
How do I cope with early labor?
If you feel up to it, one of the best things to do is to continue with your activities. There could be a long wait in front of you, and focusing on these weak contractions will only make it seem longer. Sleep if you can, conserving energy for the active labor to come. It's fine to have a light meal and do something enjoyable and non-strenuous, like watching a movie.
If you haven't completed packing your hospital bag, finish that now. Contact the person who will assist you—husband, birth coach or doula - if they aren't already with you, and keep them updated.
Drinking plenty of water is a great idea for you and for the baby. If you don't think you'll remember, ask your partner to keep track of how much water you are drinking and remind you about it.
It's normal for you to feel anxious, scared, excited or nervous. Don't feel you should hold back these feelings - talk about them with your loved ones or birth coach.
If you aren't too uncomfortable, move around while you have the opportunity. Soon enough the chances for mobility will decrease.
A long bath may feel nice.
While you may like to continue with normal activities, be careful not to exhaust yourself. You'll need your energy later. Alternating activity with rest is a great way to handle this stage.
Don't be alarmed if you experience a mucus plug or "show" (in whole or parts of it) coming away in early labor as a result of the cervix moving and opening. This is normal.
Don't rush to the hospital unless your contractions are strong and regular. The longer you are at the hospital, the more likely the staff might be to push you to accept interventions that may not be necessary.