The perception of labor varies widely from one person to the next. Your personal beliefs, life experiences and personal goals and expectations for yourself all combine to create your version of what labor is, or will be. Pain is perception.
Quite often our clients will ask us questions about what to expect during labor.
How will I know when it’s time to go to the hospital?
Will I have practice contractions so I know what it will feel like?
What is a braxton hicks contraction?
How is a braxton hicks contraction different than a real contraction?
The truth is that all of these feelings vary depending on the person experiencing them. There is no one right or wrong answer or way to experience labor.
The number one thing I always tell my clients in prenatals and during Childbirth Education classes is “your intuition trumps everything”. While I have attended many births and seen many different experiences unfold, YOU are the expert on YOUR labor and birth. If you are laboring at home, there are signs, that, as a doula, I watch for. There are things that will prompt me to ask you questions about how you’re feeling and coping with labor.
Sometimes I will gently suggest that it may be time to go to the hospital, or time to call the midwife. More often than not, it is my client, empowered by the experience, and tuned in to their baby who makes the call. I will not argue with you, or try to convince you to wait longer. I will not justify in my head that it doesn’t look that way to me. When you say go, we go. Period. The end.
Most people do get “practice” contractions, braxton hicks contractions or prodromal labor before labor actually begins, some do not. All of these things are a variation of normal. Braxton hicks contractions cause a tightening of the uterus, that does not make changes to the cervix. They come on randomly, and can sometimes even be consistent for a little while. Most people describe them as being more uncomfortable than painful.
Prodromal labor is more like practice, because it feels the most like early labor. The contractions wrap all the way around, feel crampy like menstrual cramps, and can even cause dilation. Prodromal labor is early labor that tapers off and does not become active labor. It can last for several hours, for several days in a row and can require some emotional and verbal support. Again, whether you have no contractions at all until labor starts, or experience prodromal labor, your doula will be available to walk you through all of your options for coping techniques. You will not be alone.
Early labor generally begins slowly, with contractions settling into a pattern that can be timed. The contractions gradually get longer, stronger and closer together, building in intensity to become active labor, which brings baby into your arms.