Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Contractions and Labor: Myths and Tips

When my husband and I took our birthing class, we walked away with a knowledge base we thought would help us through the birthing process. As with many things in life, labor and deliver can only truly learned through trial by fire.

Here are some things we've learned since our labor process began:

Myth #1: Once contractions start, they'll progress consistently toward active labor. 
We thought that once your contractions start, you've got maybe 24 hours before baby arrives. I have now been in "inactive labor" for almost 72 hours. Inactive labor, for me, has consisted of:

  • contractions varying in length and severity, occurring anywhere from 3 minutes apart to 4 hours apart
  • lack of sleep due to contractions at night and frequent urination (once an hour)
  • nausea
  • heartburn
  • diarrhea/overactive digestive system
Many pregnancy websites state that once signs of labor begin, it can take up to weeks for delivery, but they don't really describe what that time in "limbo" can be like. Inactive labor is no picnic! After 24 hours of it, I was exhausted! I wanted to be induced, which is something I feel very strongly about (after having been induced almost immediately with my first child). I went to the hospital and learned that after 24 hours of constant discomfort and lack of sleep, I went from being dilated at 1cm to 1.5cm! As with so many anxious parents, we were sent home to continue our laboring at home.

Tip#1: If possible, treat your days of "inactive labor" like any other day. Don't get too excited with the onset of beginning contractions, you might be devastated to learn that you've still got days before delivery. If you notice your contractions aren't really stabilizing, or becoming consistent, or they aren't intensifying, don't waste your time on laboring activities! I spent hours walking, hoping it would stabilize the contractions. All it did was add to the swelling in my feet and make me exhausted. So today, I'm enjoying my time.

  • Eat
  • Rest
  • Relax
That's what I'll be doing until I notice that either my water breaks, I get my "bloody show," or my contractions start to noticeably intensify.

Myth #2: Contractions are easily measurable.
A coworker and I were recently discussing how hard it's been to measure the length of a contraction in early labor. Half of the time, I don't know if what I'm feeling is the beginning of a contraction or something else (like gas)! After having the honor of receiving them for almost 72 hours, I've been able to describe my contractions as such:

  1. a slight wave of nausea hits
  2. breathing becomes labored
  3. stomach muscles begin to tighten
  4. slight pain develops in back and gut at the peak
  5. gradual release of muscles and pain
Tip #2: Once you are able to identify that what you're experiencing is, indeed, a contraction, measure the first few to get your bearings. Don't worry if your measurements aren't exact and pay more attention to the time between contractions than the length of contractions (the latter is much more difficult to measure in the beginning). Don't be surprised if what starts off as an hour or more of consistent contractions (one contraction every 10 minutes, for example) suddenly gets inconsistent. Just when I thought mine were stabilizing at 7 minutes apart for an hour, I wouldn't get one for 30 minutes. Then, I'd have one 12 minutes later, then 5 minutes later, then 24 minutes later... it was frustrating! After measuring for more that 48 hours (and not focusing on much else), I'd had it! Trust your body. When your labor becomes more active, you'll notice it, even if you're not specifically focusing on it.

I'm still in the "inactive" section of my labor, so I'll have to add more as we experience it...

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