Early Stage of Labor at Home: Care Instructions

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

Many women stay at home during early labor. 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.

It helps to stay as relaxed as you can during this time. You can spend some or all of your early labor at home or anywhere else you may be comfortable. If you live far from the hospital or birthing center, 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 labor, such as avoiding medicines or procedures.

As labor progresses, you'll shift from early labor to active labor. 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 labor. If you aren't sure, call your doctor or midwife. As your labor progresses, check in with your doctor or midwife about when to come back to the hospital or birthing center. 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 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 labor until after childbirth can have a positive effect on childbirth.
  • Find distractions. During early labor, you can walk, play cards, watch TV, or listen to music to help take your mind off your contractions.
  • Ask your partner, labor 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 labor. Tell your labor 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 labor. 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 now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse signs of preeclampsia, such as:
    • Sudden swelling of your face, hands, or feet.
    • New vision problems (such as dimness, blurring, or seeing spots).
    • 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.
  • 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.

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

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter W539 in the search box to learn more about "Early Stage of Labor at Home: Care Instructions".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.