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Challenges Of Labor Part 1: When You Hit Active Labor

I’ve heard this more than once.

I’m rocking it in early labor like a champ. I am totally dealing with the contractions. This is so not that bad. Or maybe it is bad but I’m just a BIRTHING GODDESS with a way higher threshold for pain that I had given myself credit for. I am going to cruise through this.

And then, BAM. A monster contraction hits. Oh.

So, this is it. Crap.

So, what do you do?

Here are a few ideas to help you get over what is a pretty common early hurdle in labor:

1. Give yourself a little time … and try not to panic. Your body needs a few minutes to catch up and provide you with some endorphins to help with this new intensity.

2.  Shift focus away from distractions, turn off phones, devices, tv, computer, etc…
When you go into active labor you go into what’s called your “internal self.” It’s what it sounds like. Many women bury their heads and shut the world out during a contraction. Trying to deal with the social/logistical world is becoming harder and harder.

3. Start using labor coping tools. There’s so much to do. Lying in the fetal position is a common reaction to pain but you’ll be a lot better off leaning forward onto someone or something and chair and rocking from side-to-side. This is a gravity-friendly position that literally helps the baby move down and out and opens the pelvis at the same time. But positioning is just one way to cope. There are lots of other things you can try including massage, water, doula assistance, relaxation breath, and vocalizing. Women who get epidurals tend to get them at some point during active labor.  (This is a part of a much larger tip about coping with labor pain, but, in general, the more things you learn to do before labor they more prepared you’ll be.)

4. This is technically a labor coping tool but it kind of deserves it’s own bullet: Get in the water. Anecdotally, many women get in the shower when active labor kicks in–even women who didn’t read this tip on a pregnancy blog.

5. Dim the lights (Internal self! Shut out the world! The labor hormone oxytocin likes privacy. Active labor is not embarrassing, but it is intimate.)

7. Go sit on the toilet. Seriously, it’s a place we associate with privacy and letting go of our pelvic floor muscles. It can help to sit on the toilet while you figure out your next move. (This can be done at home or in the hospital).

OK now the big caveat. This may never happen to you. Plenty of women find that the shift from early to active labor is a very subtle one. Or early labor is annoying, painful, endless or any number of other unpleasant things so that when active labor kicks in it’s not that big a of contrast but rather a lateral move from a particular kind of challenge to another. Still, so often I hear from women who, looking back, say there was one contraction where they had a kind of Ah-ha moment.  They realize that labor does, indeed, require some good loving support.

Moms out there, what was your reaction when active labor kicked in? Was it a decisive moment or a gradual build-up? How did you cope?

Next Up tomorrow: Challenges Of Labor Part 2: Getting To The Birthing Center Or Hospital

photo: Gia Rose/Flickr

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