Early labour is usually the longest phase of labour.

What’s happening in early labour?
The cervix softens (ripens), begins thinning (effacing) and dilates to 3 cm.
You may have show
10-12% of women have their bags of water break at the beginning of labour
Soft bowel movements increase

Often contractions are sporadic at the beginning of labour. Gradually they develop into a rhythm becoming longer, stronger, and closer together. Often they are quite short at the beginning (15 to 20 seconds) and they become longer as the labour progresses. The contractions begin, peak and end. They come like waves. The pain ebbs and flops with the contractions.

Physically you may feel some or all of these:
A heaviness in your lower abdomen, like a period beginning
Flu like
An achy back
Contractions starting in your back and moving to the front
Breaks between contractions that become shorter as the contractions become longer
Able to talk and change positions during contractions throughout most of early labour

Emotionally, you may feel some or all of these:
Unable to concentrate
Relieved it’s started

What to do to help yourself
At the beginning, do activities (walking, watching movies, talking, reading) that distract you
Continue activities that you enjoy
Do activities that relax you (getting a massage, listening to music, being in a relaxing atmosphere)
Rest. Sleep between contractions if you can
Change positions
Use yoga positions if you did prenatal yoga
Sit/lean on an exercise ball
Call your partner and other support people
Call your care providers as arranged prenatally
Learn the rhythm of your contractions
Take “one contraction at a time”
Eat light meals
Drink, especially water
Empty your bladder every 1-2 hours
Begin use of your TENS machine if you chose it as a method of pain relief
Put hot compresses or packs on your upper to lower uterus
Use slow deep breathing when you need to focus

What your labour partner can do to help
Do activities with her that distract her from the contractions
Get her something to eat and drink
Go for walks with her
Help her to relax by massage, reading to her, encouraging her to laugh
Remind her to use her TENS immediately
Remind her to go to the bathroom every 1-2 hours
Call her care provider(s)
Help her find a ritual to use during contractions when they become consistent
Put warm compresses on her lower uterus or on her neck

For more info on labour, see our Labour and Delivery section.

Prepared by: Childbirth Education Curriculum Project Ad Hoc Committee
Approved by: BC Women’s Family Education Advisory Committee