1. The most tell tale sign of labour are regular and strong contractions. When you think you’re in labour, make sure you’ve noticed a pattern of contractions for AT LEAST an hour before heading to the hospital, or making a bold proclamation on Facebook about your labour status. Remember to look for 5-1-1. Contractions that are at least five minutes apart, contractions that are at least one minute long, and contractions that have been coming at that frequency and at that length for at least one hour. It's all or nothing on this one. It's you're having contractions that are 5 minutes apart but lasting only 20 seconds, then you are probably not in active labour.
2.The average first time mom doesn’t go into labour till she’s past 41 weeks. I know, none of us like those numbers…but it helps with some perspective.
3. The average woman’s first time labour will last over 18 hours. Some women labour longer, and some women labour shorter, hence “average.” However, this truly is an accurate picture of how long you can expect your labour to last. Unless your one of those lucky mythical birthing unicorns that only labours for 2 hours before sneezing out a baby, you should plan to block off a full day on your schedule. The good news is that the hardest part of labour usually only lasts a couple of hours or less.
4. The length of your labour doesn't really matter because women who feel supported and loved during labour actually look back on their birthing day with fond memories...I swear!
5. To answer the question that I hear almost every labouring mom ask: Yes, blood is totally normal! I know it can be alarming, but it's a sign that your cervix is changing. If you're not wearing a sexy diaper or pad by the time the bloody show appears, then get ready to strap one on, because the blood, discharge and fluids will continue for the rest of your labour...and up to 6 weeks postpartum! Remember all of those glorious periods that you missed while pregnant? Yeah, you didn't really miss them, they've just been in hiding.
6. Ignore it till you can’t ignore it anymore. If you’re not sure you’re in labour, then you’re probably not in active labour yet. For some, early labour can last for days!! That first 5cm or so can take a very long time, especially for first time moms. You're not considered to be in active labour until about 5cm. Try not to get discouraged by 'slow progress'. It is totally and completely normal early on. Try to alternate between distracting, relaxing and labour stimulating activities by going on a walk, taking a nap, baking, watching tv, playing games, napping again, etc.
7. Avoid getting in the tub too early in your labour because it may slow things down. However, if it’s the middle of the night and you've been in early labour for a long time, feel free to get in the tub. It may ease off your contractions just enough so you can get some sleep. But feel free to use a shower at any point in your labour…this doesn’t seem to stall out labour. and can be both relaxing AND distracting!
8. Losing your mucus plug really doesn’t give clear indications that labour is close. Don’t call your doctor, midwife, or doula at 2AM letting them know you’ve lost your mucus plug. However it doesn’t hurt to mention it at your next visit, or during regular business hours. It may be a sign that labour is hours or days away...but it may not be, too. Super simple and straightforward, right?
9. If your water breaks, or if you continually feel like you’re peeing on yourself, call your care provider immediately. Also go put on some Depends. You’ll thank me for it.
10. Drink, pee, and repeat. An empty bladder helps relieve some of the pain of the contraction and staying hydrated is vital for your body and your baby.
11. If you can still talk through or laugh in between your contractions, you’re probably still in early labour.
12. Once you’re bellowing like a wild buffalo, or breathing heavy like you’ve just finished a spinning class, you’re likely in active labour.
13. Remember there is more to progression of labour than just how dilated you are. The position of your cervix, how soft it is, how effaced it is, and the station of the baby all make a difference in your labour. So when your caregiver exclaims "you're still 4cm" be sure to ask about the other ways your cervix may have changed.
14. In my experience as a doula, I have noticed that once a woman is completely effaced, she’ll plow through labour like a mack truck. So hang in there. The first part of labour can be grueling and long, but once you are fully effaced things will speed up.
15. Writing a birth plan is a great exercise! It helps you and your partner explore your options...but in my experiences actually handing your nurse or doctor a physical plan on paper only elicits eye rolls and proclamations about how you've doomed yourself to a c-section by simply having an opinion. I'm not saying that it's right, but it's what happens far too often.
16. Okay, remember at the top when I said that contractions are the tell tale way to know when you are in labour? That was a lie! Crowning is most certainly the strongest sign of labour! By this point you'll know that you are in labour if you didn't already...trust me!
In case you didn't know, the cervix is super cool...almost a cool as the placenta! But maybe that's the birth nerd in me coming out. Before we get into the nitty gritty of understanding the assessment of your cervix during labour, let's revisit grade 8 sex ed!
Fun fact: if you look at the cervix from below, it bears a striking resemblance to the head of a penis. Seriously, Google it!
What is a Cervix?
The cervix is simply the lower part of the uterus and, in labour, it opens like a beautiful blooming flower. There you have it, our in-depth anatomy lesson is over, and as a bonus you get your birthing visualization for the day:
Your Pre-Labour Cervix Cannot Predict the Future
Just an important side note before we move on to the purpose of this article (man, I'm getting side-tracked today): your cervix is not a flipping fortune teller! As amazing as it is, it cannot predict when you will go into labour. Just ask around, and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of women whose cervix was 0 centimeters dilated and 0% effaced less than 24 hours before they went into labour. And there are other women whose cervix was 3 or 4 centimeters dilated for weeks before they went into labour. So why do so many care providers check for dilation before the onset of labour, other than the uncommon medical reasons that may make it necessary? Good question! Let me know if you can give me an answer.
Your Cervix in Labour
Okay, now that I have already thrown all of these fancy terms at you, like "effaced" and "dilated", in my above rant, let's get started.
There are 6 ways to progress in labour, but your birth attendants will likely judge your progress by three measurements: effacement, dilation and descent. It helps to understand the labour language your birth attendants use and how it translates into what’s happening in your body.
6 Ways to Progress
Remember that dilation isn’t the only way to progress in labour. Don’t be discouraged if your healthcare provider announces “You’re still four centimetres”. Ask about the other progress you may have made, such as effacement.
Effacement means your cervix is thinning. During an internal exam, your birth attendant will measure how far effaced you are in terms of a percentage. 0 percent effaced means your cervix has not started thinning, 50 percent effaced means it is halfway there, and 100 percent effaced means your cervix is totally thinned.
Dilation refers to how far open your cervix is. During an internal exam, your health care provider will use his or her fingers to estimate your dilation in centimetres. Your HCP will give you a number that ranges between 0 and 10. The first 4cm (early labour) usually takes the longest. And trust me, it can take a very long time! Once you get to 10cm (meaning no cervix left), it is go time to start pushing!
One thing to keep in mind about dilation is that it is a matter of opinion. They are not going in your vagina with a ruler, your HCP just uses his/her fingers! That means that it is all subjective depending on the person who assesses you. If you haven't progressed in 2 hours, but have had two different people assessing you, consider the fact that you probably have progressed, but that Nurse Jane and Doctor Doe simply have different ideas of what "6cm" feels like.
Don’t be discouraged if you are not progressing at the “average” rate of 1 centimetre of dilation an hour. This is simply an obstetrical rule of thumb, and not a rule necessarily followed by your cervix. Don’t let anyone put a time limit on your labour.
Descent means how far the baby’s head is in the pelvis. During an internal exam, your healthcare provider will determine to what station the baby has descended. Station zero is the middle of the pelvis and each centimetre above or below marks another station. If your baby is -4 then he is four centimetres above zero station. If he is +4 then your baby’s head has descended all the way through the pelvis. Yay!
Yes, you are about to hear the "everyone is different" speech! Your cervix may change before labour begins, and it may not. You might have days of early labour to bring about the initial changes in your cervix, or you might not even notice it happening. You might dilate at 1cm and hour, and you may not. If you are not dilating to the satisfaction of the people watching you, you have a few options:
A) ask that the same person assesses you each time, so that changes can be more easily perceived.
B) ask what other progress you have made, such as effacement or decent.
C) tell everyone to f*&# off
You know you are pregnant when...
1. You are tired. All. The. Time.
2. And yet sleep is impossible.
3. You spend your entire 1st trimester wishing you looked pregnant.
4. You spend your entire 3rd trimester wishing you looked less pregnant.
5. You must change your underwear 5 times a day.
6. Wiping is now marathon event.
7. You avoid laughing, squatting, bumpy rides or sneezing (especially sneezing!) out of fear that you might pee yourself.
8. You can name all the toppings on a pizza with one quick sniff.
9. That one quick sniff will likely make you vomit.
10. You do your best to avoid public transit (see #7 and #9 for reasoning).
11. Strangers on the aforementioned public transit avoid eye contact (I know you see me, douche bag!)
12. You frantically look for your phone...while talking on the phone.
13. You finally accept that 'pregnancy brain' is a real thing.
14. You feel really special that you get to park in pink parking spaces.
15. You notice that the legs of your dining room chairs haven't been washed in ages (ever?)
16. You must wash the legs of your dining room chairs NOW!
17. You tear up listening to the Land Before Time theme song because it is just so gosh-darn nostalgic -- link here if you want to have a good cry.
18. You tear up when your husband brings home the wrong ice cream flavour.
19. You buy your first pair of Granny Panties and actually love wearing them.
20. Your bed looks like Mount Everest.
21. You spend your life counting down the days until your next midwife appointment or ultrasound.
22. And get really excited when you only have to wait 1 week between appointments.
23. You learn that there are more fruits out there than you thought, and that the size difference between an avocado and a lemon is two weeks.
24. The first thing you do when you enter an unfamiliar building is to be sure you know the location of the closest bathroom.
25. You refuse to wear anything without an elastic waistband.
26. You obsessively bounce on a birth ball for hours.
27. You find yourself shopping online for the best nursing pads at 2am.
28. You sit on the toilet for 10 extra minutes just to see if you can pee twice (yay efficiency!)
29. You feel like a bowel movement is tweet worthy #ifinallypooped
30. Your shoes have miraculously shrunk in size (I swear!).
Now it's your turn to finish the sentence. You know you're pregnant when...
If you have ever wondered "What the F#*k is a padsicle, and how do I make one?"...then you have come to the right place!!
So, What is a Padsicle?
A padsicle is a large maternity pad that helps your postpartum recovery go more smoothly. These sexy things are soaked with healing ingredients and kept in the freezer, providing cooling and soothing relief for your tender lady bits. Every time you wear one, your vagina will say "ah!
What Ingredients Do I Need?
Alright, I Need to Know How to Make These!
To begin, cut off several sheets of aluminum foil and place one maternity pad on each sheet. Then add about 120ml of witch hazel, 20 drops of lavender essenital oil, and 30ml of aloe vera gel to a spray bottle (I like to use a peri bottle). Now shake, shake, shake! Next, you will spray the mixture onto the pads. But be careful not to soak the pads too much, as they still have to do their job of collecting your lochia! Lastly, wrap each pad, place them all in a freezer bag, and into the freezer.
Voila! You have just made padsicles. Your lady bits will thank-you, and hopefully this little project has satisfied your nesting instict for the day!
Kiss-ass doula, pretty okay-ish mom, spreadsheet enthusiast, punctuality freak, ice cream addict.