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Early Stage of Labour at Home: Care Instructions


If you came to the hospital while in early labour, your doctor or midwife may ask you to labour at home until your contractions are stronger.

Many women stay at home during early labour. This is often the longest part of the birthing process. It may last up to 2 to 3 days. Contractions are mild to moderate and shorter (about 30 to 45 seconds). You can usually keep talking during them. Contractions may also be irregular, about 5 to 20 minutes apart. They may even stop for a while.

Keep track of how often you're having contractions and how long each contraction lasts. The frequency of contractions is the time from the beginning of 1 contraction until the beginning of the next contraction. How long the contraction lasts is the duration.

It helps to stay as relaxed as you can during this time. You can spend some or all of your early labour at home or anywhere else you may be comfortable. If you live far from the hospital or birthing centre, you may want to think about going somewhere nearby so you can get back to the hospital quickly.

For some women, there may be benefits to staying home during early labour, such as avoiding medicines or procedures.

As labour progresses, you'll shift from early labour to active labour. During this time, contractions get more intense. They occur more often, about every 2 to 3 minutes. They also last longer, about 50 to 70 seconds. You will feel them even when you change positions and walk or move around.

It may be hard to tell if you are in active labour. If you aren't sure, call your doctor, midwife, or nurse advice line. As your labour progresses, check in with your doctor or midwife about when to come back to the hospital or birthing centre. You may have special instructions if your water broke or you tested positive for group B strep.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Get support. Having a support person with you from early labour until after childbirth can have a positive effect on childbirth.
  • Find distractions. During early labour, you can walk, play cards, watch TV, or listen to music to help take your mind off your contractions.
  • Ask your partner, labour coach, or doula for a massage. Shoulder and low back massage during contractions may ease your pain. Strong massage of the back muscles (counterpressure) during contractions may help relieve the pain of back labour. Tell your labour coach exactly where to push and how hard to push.
  • Use imagery. This means using your imagination to decrease your pain. For instance, to help manage pain, picture your contractions as waves rolling over you. Picture a peaceful place, such as a beach or mountain stream, to help you relax between contractions.
  • Change positions during labour. Walking, kneeling, or sitting on a big rubber ball (birth ball) are good options.
  • Use focused breathing techniques. Breathing in a rhythm can distract you from pain.
  • Take a warm shower or bath. Warm water may ease pain and stress.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have a seizure.
  • You have severe vaginal bleeding.You have severe pain in your belly or pelvis that doesn't get better between contractions.
  • You have had fluid gushing or leaking from your vagina and you know or think the umbilical cord is bulging into your vagina. If this happens, immediately get down on your knees so your rear end (buttocks) is higher than your head. This will decrease the pressure on the cord until help arrives.

Call your doctor, midwife, or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse signs of pre-eclampsia, such as:
    • Sudden swelling of your face, hands, or feet.
    • New vision problems (such as dimness or blurring).
    • A severe headache.
  • You have any vaginal bleeding.
  • You have belly pain or cramping.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have had regular contractions (with or without pain) for an hour. This means that you have 8 or more within 1 hour or 4 or more in 20 minutes after you change your position and drink fluids.
  • You have a sudden release of fluid from your vagina or you're leaking fluid from your vagina (your membranes may be ruptured).
  • You have low back pain or pelvic pressure that does not go away.
  • You notice that your baby has stopped moving or is moving much less than normal or the movements have changed.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor, midwife, or nurse advice line if you have any problems.

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