Are you wondering if you're in labor? It can be difficult to determine sometimes, and with all of the uncertainty that comes along with birth, this can feel like one more attack on our confidence to handle what's to come. This post will help you determine what you need to know, NOT based on what any book says but absolutely based on what you're experiencing, as the mother.
Mucous Plug? Maybe you've lost some of your mucous plug, with or without contractions. Maybe you're been losing it for days. Maybe you lost some of it last week and still are pregnant?
Contractions? Yep, this is a good indicator of labor's onset! But what if contractions start and stop and start again? Or, what if they don't hurt and you're confused as to whether they are Braxton Hicks or true contractions? What if contractions started last night but stopped this morning? What does it mean?
Ruptured Membranes? This one usually means game on! But...maybe you felt a slight trickle and then nothing more. Maybe you heard a POP! and felt an enormous GUSH of water. Maybe your bag of waters broke last night and you're still not having contractions this morning. Maybe your contractions started right away (see Contractions above!).
What does it mean?
It means you're normal, for starters. Labor begins in many different ways, well beyond what I've outlined here. Some mothers cite feeling nauseous as an indicator of labor's onset. Some mention a burst of energy, or an intense nesting instinct. Some have back pain (which can be contractions). Some mothers just have a "feeling" that today will be the day (some are right, some are off).
I'm here to tell you that your labor will begin in its own way that is just right for you and your baby. So, what do you really need to know? Well, labor's onset is best determined in hindsight. When you look back, you'll be able to determine for yourself when your labor began, and it doesn't matter what others think about when your labor began. As the birthing mother, you know.
It's great to be aware of some possible signs, and it adds to the excitement and anticipation of your sweet lil' nugget's arrival. But know this: whether your cervix begins to dilate slowly and you find your mucous plug releasing, whether your contractions are taking a break after hours of being steady, whether your water trickles a bit and leaves you wondering if this is it or not, the ONE thing you need is the ability to mindfully cope with the uncertainty that surrounds your birth experience. This comes from YOU.
You can prepare your mind as well as your body and I'm not talking about book knowledge. I'm talking about learning tools to quiet your mind as it races, when it questions "Is this it? Am I ready? Am I doing it right? Does my body know what to do? Will baby come before ____(fill in the blank)? Will I handle the pain? Will I get there in time? Will my partner show up emotionally in the way I need them to? Will I be able to do it naturally? Will my friends laugh at me if I ______ (fill in the blank)? Will I tear? Will I heal? Will I have postpartum depression? Will I be able to breastfeed?" The questions, oh the questions we keep ourselves up with at night! And no one to answer them, except ourselves.
Seems like a good place to turn, then, is to ourselves.
So, how DO you prepare your mind? How do you prepare your mind for the uncertainties that come along with labor and birth? Here are three practical ideas. For starters, learn and practice some visualizations along with learning to recognize and acknowledge your own breath. Tuning in to your breathing alone can quiet your mind and stop the racing thoughts and judgments. Next, engage in conversation with your birth partner, a trained doula or mental health professional about your birth worries. They have tools to help you move through your worries and fears and prepare more fully for what you are going through in *this* moment. Lastly, prepare yourself ahead of time with comfort measures (I can think of 100 of them!), ideas for position changes, and pain-coping practices, and then practice using them well before labor's onset. There is very little that we can *control* in birth and hundreds of ways we can *influence* our birth.
Bottom line: Your labor is going to start when it starts and you will likely feel less than certain that "this is it!" until you have a few more hours under your belt and you will know that you're on your way. When contractions are consistently getting longer, stronger and closer together, you are in labor (with a hundred other variations, truth be told!).
How did you know when YOU were in labor?