Early Labour – 8 Tips For A Low Stress Early Labour At Home

Early Labour - 8 Tips For A Low Stress Early Labour At Home

During early labour, you might feel a wide range of emotions.

Anxious, uncertain, relieved, scared, excited, frustrated, nervous — even all of those things at once!

Rest assured, they’re all normal and common feelings.

It’s so important to try and relax, rest and play down any early labour signs (unless you’re concerned about your or your baby’s health), and maintain as much normality as possible.

Labour is exactly that – hard work. This is the beginning of what will likely be a long, exhausting and intense process.

Especially for first time mothers, pre-labour can last for hours or even days. This is a common reason why you might hear horror stories from other women, who said they were in labour for days. Early labour is not active labour, but it can be uncomfortable and frustrating, even more so if you allow it to consume you. Rest assured, this article has been written to help you get over the emotional hump of early labour.

Ask yourself this: do you know of any marathon runners who begin their race with a sprint?

Of course you don’t.

If marathon entrants began  their race with a sprint or bolt, they wouldn’t finish the race – they’d burn out!

Placing too much focus and energy on the early stages of labour can sabotage what could have been a much easier, more enjoyable birth. This is because sleep deprivation and lack of energy and stamina can become an even bigger issue than how you’re coping with labour pain.

How Long Will Early Labour Last?

How long early labour lasts for varies between each woman and each individual pregnancy. This is due to many factors, including the position of the baby, hormone levels, how you choose to labour (upright/lying down) and so much more. Some women don’t even realise they’re in early labour, and are surprised to find they’re progressing quicker than they thought.

Find out what causes labour to start.

For some women, early labour can continue for several days or more, and can become a frustrating and testing time.

It’s so important to keep yourself distracted. See if you can think of any emotional reasons why labour is unfolding this way. It may be your own fears, not feeling ‘safe’ or comfortable, or perhaps the people around you are making you feel uptight or stressed. Your emotions and how you feel can significantly impact your labour.

Two things known to help shorten labour duration is having an active birth (not labouring on your back) and having a doula support you.

What Is Early Labour Exactly?

In early labour, the cervix moves to the anterior (front) position, softens and effaces (thins) and begins to dilate.

Early labour is when you’re zero to four centimetres dilated, after which time it becomes active labour – which is when contractions are regular and constant.

Some women will experience a mucus plug or ‘show’ (in whole or parts of it) in early labour, as a result of the cervix moving and opening. However, it’s also normal to not see anything at all until later in labour.

How Important Is This Annoying Early Labour?

Early labour is a very important part of the labour process. It’s not false labour, because your body is working away making progress. Even if it feels like it’s taking forever and resulting in nothing but stress and frustration!

It’s easy to become disappointed when early labour doesn’t step up as quickly as we’d like. But your body is using this all-important early labour process as crucial preparation. This early preparation and dilation is paving the way for you to become fully dilated at ten centimetres, when your baby will be ready to be born.

Remind yourself that early labour contractions are your body working very hard, building up to stronger, longer contractions. This is very little reason to feel disappointed or that your body has failed you. It’s working beautifully!

Here are 8 tips and suggestions for early labour:

Early Labour Tip #1: Avoid Telling Family and Friends!

You’re probably already sick of people asking you if the baby has arrived yet. So can imagine how frustrating things could get if you told them you were in early labour?

It’s going to take some time before your baby is actually ready to be born. Telling others you are in labour only serves to heighten the anticipation and pressure. Right now you really need to focus inwards, and forget about what’s going on outside of you. Dealing with family pressure and stress will tell your body it’s not safe and you can’t relax to have a baby. Ever wonder why a cat will hide somewhere quiet and dark to have her babies? She knows she will labour best undisturbed.

In early labour, some women start getting discouraging comments from family and friends, for example, “What? You’re still going?” or, ‘Gees, that’s a long time to be in labour. Shouldn’t they induce you or put you out of your misery by now?”

In your vulnerable state, you may start doubting your body or your ability to birth well. Worst case scenario, this can result in a mother succumbing to interventions, for example, an induction to hurry labour along (due to everyone’s anticipation getting the better of you), or pain relief to try and make the stress more managable. They are not necessary when a woman feels safe and protected in labour.

The bad news for a mother who accepts an induction of labour to get it over with is an induction significantly increases the risk of emergency c-section, especially for first time mothers. This is mainly because induced labour is stronger and more intense than natural labour, with shorter breaks between contractions. Even with an epidural to relieve the pain, the baby still feels the effects of the more intense labour.

The hard and fast contractions compress blood and oxygen supply, which over time, can send them into fetal distress. This often ends in an emergency c-section as it becomes a serious issue. Sadly, the mother thinks her body has failed her, but unfortunately, this is the all too common scenario in labour wards all over the world. Read more about induction of labour and the differences between induced labour and natural labour.

It’s important to remember that early labour is not officially established or ‘active’ labour. It can take days to get to that point. So if you can, avoid telling family and friends until labour is established (active labour which is 4-7cms) or wait until you have your beautiful baby in your arms. You don’t want your phone ringing like crazy in the middle of a serious contraction!

Early Labour Tip #2: Rest, Rest, Rest!

You may have heard going for huge walks or swims in early labour is beneficial, but it’s not always ideal. You may exhaust important energy stores that you’ll need further into your labour.

Pools and baths are not a good idea in early labour – the weightlessness works against gravity, and can result in slower or stalled labour. This is one of the main reasons why if you’re having a waterbirth, it’s a good idea to wait until around 7 centimetres dilation (which is the stage called ‘transition’) until you jump in the water. Another reason is because the pain relief is more noticeable when you are in stronger labour. If you do want to use water for pain relief, soak under the shower instead. However if the bath is calling you in active labour, you can always give it a try, but hop out if you find it slows things down.

On the other hand, a bath can be helpful if you’re having a very long early labour and you’re stressed and anxious. Sometimes a bit of relaxation can help.

If your labour begins at night, try to sleep or rest as much as you can. Yes, it may be hard to sleep if you’re excited or if the contractions are catching your attention. But you’ll need as much rest as you can for the more demanding stages of your labour. Depleting what energy you have now can lead you to feeling exhausted way too early. This can lead to you opting for pain relief and requiring interventions if you don’t have the energy to push your baby out.

Early Labour Tip #3: Start Some Projects You Have Been Meaning To Do

Early labour is a great time to have some distractions, especially in the form of projects you have been meaning to do. Write in your journal, scrapbooking, painting, file away photos or recipes, rearrange things you have been meaning to in a while. This way time will pass a little faster and you will have achieved something at a time when you might feel like you aren’t achieving much at all! Even though you most definitely are!

Early Labour Tip #4: Keep Eating and Drinking

Keep up your water levels to avoid dehydration, having regular toilet trips too, to make room for baby to come down. Food wise, you want to eat foods that are going to give you lasting energy, so carbs are a great option. Some women might say that they don’t like to eat prior to labour, out of concern they will only throw up, but it’s very important for your energy levels and for baby to eat in early labour. Some women will throw up regardless due to hormones – I’m sure most of us would rather throw up food than bile! Some women also like to eat spicy food or curries to hurry things along but be warned, if it normally gives you diarrhoea imagine what that might be like later in labour. Same with castor oil – often this causes diarrhoea for the pregnant mother.

Midwife, Brenda Manning, suggests, “If you don’t think you will remember, ask your partner to remind you to drink at least 300mls of water every couple of hours to avoid dehydration, which can result in fatigue and a poorly functioning uterus. Eating and drinking during labour has been shown to reduce the total length of labour by as much as 90 minutes. Eat light, easily digested food.”

Early Labour Tip #5: Stay At Home As Long As Possible

Unless you are concerned, don’t feel safe or feel you cannot cope at home for much longer, staying home as long as you can will keep you off the clock in hospital. What I mean by this is as soon as you arrive in hospital, they will be keeping an eye on how long you have been in labour for and if you do not progress as fast as they would like (usually they are after around 1cm an hour which is not very generous) then you may sooner be offered inductions or other interventions to hurry things along.

This may sound enticing, however any interventions that are introduced where there are no problems evident for mother and baby only offer more opportunity for even more intervention or complications as a result of the intervention.

Read our article about the risks of induction of labour to find out about what’s involved once you’re induced or augmented (labour sped up). It will mean you will no longer be able to have a natural birth — the best you can hope for is a vaginal birth. However, an induction increases the risk of c-section.

Early Labour Tip #6: Make Sure Your Bags Are Packed And Ready To Go

This might be a silly one to mention, many mums have their bags packed well before their estimated due date. BellyBelly has an article What To Pack For Your Labour Bag which is worth a read – there are some tips from new mothers which you may not have already thought of.

Early Labour Tip #7: Keep Yourself Distracted

Hopefully you’ve planned some things to do in early labour prior to now; having a chat to your partner earlier so he can arrange some activities for you would be great! Perhaps you could hire your favourite movies, eat out at your favourite restaurant, have a massage, go out for a picnic, get your nails done – anything that will take your mind off things for a while is of great benefit in early labour.

Early Labour Tip #8: Don’t Feel Disappointed!

If your labour is taking longer to establish than you hoped, don’t feel disappointed! Your body is working very hard – and if its any consolation, some women find that when they have longer early labours, they have a shorter active labour. The early part of your labour is not in any way a sign of what is to come. The time it takes to get to active labour doesn’t mean that it will take that long to get to the next stage.

Remember, feeling anxiety or stress can slow or stall your labour – and that’s the last thing you want to do! Enjoy this very special time before your baby arrives – you’ve got a great big job ahead of you.

Last Updated: October 18, 2015


Kelly Winder is the creator of BellyBelly.com.au, a writer, doula (trained in 2005), and a mother of three awesome children. She's passionate about informing and educating fellow thinking parents and parents-to-be, especially about all the things she wishes she knew before she had her firstborn. Kelly is also passionate about travel, tea, travel, and animal rights and welfare. And travel.


  1. This is the best article I have read so far about early labor. I think it says everything I need to hear right now! LOVED IT!

    1. I have been searching and searching for some info with regards to this the last few days and this is by far the best thing I have read . Very helpful

  2. This has totally calmed me down,chilled me out and I feel reassured..going to rest and listen to my body instead of feeling like or worry why I’m not in active labour..really good info x

  3. This is exactly what I needed to read and I no longer feel bad about laying down and chilling out for the second stage!
    I became disheartened earlier when midwife visited and said I was only 2cm dilated. This is my second child and I expected the contractions I’d had all night last night to bring me into phase two. It hasn’t and it’s because I need to rest and this article makes me feel like I’m not failing.
    Wish I’d read it before I told family though! Lol 😉

  4. This is a really informative and reassuring article. Having been experiencing the signs and sensations of early labour for 5 days awaiting my second baby, after a very different and much briefer experience with my first (21 hours from first twinges to birth), I have been starting to feel quite frustrated and uncertain and been doubting whether things are actually happening! I am looking forward to sharing this article with my husband who has been equally dubious about me actually being in labour. The not sharing with family and friends bit makes sense but is not so easy when you are relying on them to help look after baby’s older sibling(s) – I have found it a massive help to involve f & f as it is very tiring getting through this prolonged early stage and the uncertainty as to when and the speed at which things are going to take off means having our little princess being cared for by, in our case, her amazing grand parents removes some uncertainty and stress which could potentially hold up the arrival of baby 2.

    Thank you! Sarah

  5. While I have not experienced active labor yet, I cannot imagine it being more difficult than early labor. It’s so easy to get frustrated with yourself and your body. I would trade the physical pain of active labor for the emotional distress I have right now in a heartbeat! It’s so hard to be patient and just relax but what other choice do I have. No point in stressing, but really wish I had not told anyone that I was in early labor, that’s an excellent point this article mentions. Other people asking your progression constantly every hour of the day for days on end is really stressful!!

  6. This is so helpful to me right now I was panicking for a while thinking this baby wasn’t coming but thank you for the article it’s very important and helpful information about the big d day! !♡♡ to ensure that my delivery is coming that’s all I need to know with my other 2 children I didn’t even feel it but now that I’m older I can feel every thing! !good luck to all

  7. I have all lot pain in low back and stomch and legs heart all lot some times I. Can’t move because my pain legs.

  8. Definitely worth the read and encouraging!!! I usually don’t comment on articles but this one was too helpful not too!!! ❤️ Been in early labor for almost a week! Thanks so much!!

  9. Thank you for this article! I’ve been in early labor for the last 16 hours with my second child after being induced with my first, so I really appreciate the tips.

  10. 37 weeks and been in early labour for 3 weeks, plus in and out of hospital and I’ve had enough! Not sleeping and in pain constantly.. But this article was a breath of fresh air to read… been trying everything to speed things along but now I’m just going to take it easy and relax and let my body do what it’s got to and hope that works..

    1. Awesome! Fatigue, stress and exhaustion are your enemies, especially right before a marathon. Have some nice warm baths, get some massages – follow your bliss, then baby will too 😉

  11. I feel so much better to read I’m not alone. I’ve been in early labour for a week now and still only 2cm dilated. The backache and stomach cramps are getting to me and the stress has really tired me out. Feeling more positive and hopeful after reading. Thank you.

  12. Great article to read. I felt more at ease after reading this. Thank you.
    I’ve been having pain for the past 6 days and was told to “wait it out” at home. I thought that meant the baby is coming soon. I am going to patiently wait for my angel and rest and relax.

  13. Wonderful article! Your words truly calmed me down and help me get back on track with the right mindset. I love how much you understand the process and the emotions we go through! Thanks for this practical and powerful read. The tips are great.

  14. I’m so glad I stumbled across this article. My 2nd baby and this is all making so much more sense. I feel like I’m in early labour right now and going to take your advice and relax and distract myself….to prepare myself for round 2. Thanks so much.

  15. Thanks very much, this article helped me to relax as I’m now 3 days in early labour. I was worried and stressed but now I’m ok, I will just wait for the right time to welcome my baby

  16. I’m not sure I’ve ever left a comment after reading an Internet article before but i felt like I should this time because I really appreciated this article. For over two days now I’ve had labor signs come and go, (also a false alarm a week ago) sending me to the hospital, an hour away, disturbing my sleep, and generally leaving me feeling frustrated and negative. I still find myself very negative at times, but this article has helped me see the need to try not to get too upset, and to be patient. It’s really nice to read something that shows such insight into the emotional struggle we deal with. It’s nice to know I am not alone.

    1. I’m going through this too, and have been feeling guilty about resting when I can. A wonderful article to help lift my spirit – I even sent it to my husband!

  17. Thank you so much for this article. I have been in early labor for over five days and started to feel inadequate somehow being that this is my second child. But determined to have a natural birth i wanted to feel better and know there were other women out there going through the same thing. This article eases my anxiety and feelings of frustration a great deal. Thank you again.

  18. This article is the best I have read, I’m. Currently thinking I’m in early labour as it’s my 4th doubts shouldn’t be there but other 3 were really quick and non of this befor pain thank you so much for a super reassuring article that lifted my spirits rather than making me feel I’m making it up x

  19. Thanks for this,Kelly. I have been at this early labor for 7days, its my first baby.
    I was really anxious before reading this article but am glad to read that its normal. I wish I had not told my sis-in-law,though. she calls almost every hour.
    I’ll relax more and rest well now.

  20. I am currently in this early labour phase and have been for a good 2 days and was beginning to get frustrated that things weren’t speeding up as fed up of the irregular contractions and back pain but reading this has made me feel so much more positive about the whole process and I am going to do my best to relax and allow my body to do what it needs to prepare for the next stage of labour.

  21. Have been in Early labor for 2 days now and was starting to feel like there was something wrong with me as a first time Mom.
    This article calmed my anxiety & stress level and I think I may actually sleep tonight!

    Thank you so much!
    Christine from Long Island, NY

  22. Thank for the amazing supportive article.
    Very clear, very calming. Put me right back in the headspace I would like 🙂

  23. Thank you so much for this article. I’m a mother of 10 children and this is our 11th child. You would think that I know all of this stuff, but each labor has been different and new. Thank you again; this was informative and encouraging. Been in early labor since yesterday…..So about 11 hours so far??? Wish me luck. <3 <3 Trista.

  24. Thank you-this gave me a bit of relief! I am a FTM, 38.5 weeks, 3-4cm dilated for 4 days, with intermittent contractions (some painful, some not) & backaches. I was so excited at first to hear I was 3-4cm & thought I’d be in the hospital by that night. 4 days later, I’ve been losing hope, & wondering if something is wrong. I don’t understand why no one tells you early labor can be so protracted. It’s not false labor though. People seem to think slow progression equates with false labor, & that causes more anxiety too.

  25. i usually don’t comment on article but, this. now 36 weeks,2nd baby.my first baby EM-LSCS due to cordprolapse. It’s very helpful thanks too.

  26. Such a perfect article!!
    I’m so relieved I thought there was something wrong with me!
    I’ve been in early labor for the past 5 days and really am exhausted
    Especially at the fact that I’ve been receiving 100 text messages asking if his out yet!
    BIG regret telling family
    I’ll be 40 weeks in 3 days so I really hope he’ll be out before then!
    I think I’ll be treating my self to a pedicure tomorrow and just taking it easy until the big day:)
    Thank you so much for this info!

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