05 May The Latent Phase of Labour
So…you think your baby has decided to come? Not yours or anyone else’s decision…but your baby’s! A baby comes when he/she’s ready. Every day you stay pregnant is good and right for your baby as he/she prepares for life outside the womb. Hopefully this will be between 37 & 42 weeks, so you two can work together in harmony and without interruption on your journey to meet…Yay!
Remember your ‘Due date’ is only an approximate/ guess date and 42 weeks is still ‘on time’. Focus on the later date and especially use this for family and friends. If baby arrives before it’s a bonus & you won’t have felt pressured! It’s best not to try to force labour yourself, your baby may need this time to prepare his/her lungs for breathing alone and all the while the brain and other organs are developing. I know you may be fed up – but hey what’s a few more days, with the greater likelihood of an easier birth, healthier baby and quicker recovery.
What’s the trigger?
Baby makes a protein to prepare his/her lungs in readiness to leave you and breathe independently. This protein travels to the muscle in the uterus (womb) and starts the birth process through stimulating contractions…Clever – so do have some trust and be patient…believing baby knows best.
Contractions / Surges
These may start with long spaces between, some short, some long, some mild and some strong. By all means feel excited – but First time mums do wait until you’re sure a regular pattern has formed over 2-3 hours, with each contraction feeling similar in strength and spacing before you call a midwife. If you’ve had a baby before you will be more confident in recognising when labour is truly established. There is a lot of preparation your body and baby have to make for birth and this may take several days. The cervix (neck of the womb) has to shorten, thin and open to 4cms and contractions have to build and regulate to make the cross over into established labour. Midwives refer to the pre-labour preparation stage of irregular contractions as the Latent Phase of labour. Do feel confident to stay at home if you are comfortable and all remains well but use your instinct and if your gut reaction is to go for a check – then ring and go. The more you understand about the labour process the more confident you will feel. You will be much more likely to be happy at home, therefore avoiding interference and intervention.
Irregular contractions soften, shorten and open the cervix (neck of the womb) which is fab! – but contractions haven’t yet reached the required strength and frequency to consistently open the cervix for birth. Contractions/waves may be irregular – mild – short lasting – no real pattern or infrequent (such as one contraction at 5 mins lasting 30-45 seconds, next at 3 mins, next at 12 mins or 6 – 7 mins apart). These irregular contractions/surges are really positive as they are preparing you mentally and physically for birth. Don’t be disappointed if after vaginal examination your midwife informs you ‘you’re not in labour’ – she is not saying you are not having discomfort and she is not thinking you’re soft! This is the Latent Phase when your baby and body are preparing for birth but labour has not yet established – it’s still positive and it’s not disappointing!
Sometimes irregular contractions progress into more strong and regular contractions (3 contractions in a 10 minute period, lasting 50-60 seconds) or sometimes they fade away and start up again later or the following day – they are all doing something! If you are relaxed and calm you may not even notice the Latent Phase of labour.
What should you do when you’re having irregular contractions / surges?
Rest – Eat – Drink – Breathe
Your baby is still in the get ready, get steady mode and not yet at the green light for go – but how considerate a little reminder from he/she, life is changing. So, make the most of this time, enjoy a film, a cuddle, an uninterrupted candlelit supper together. Be patient, rest – eat – drink – breathe and look forward to welcoming baby.
Follow your instinct – do what feels natural at the time. If you feel like cleaning and keeping busy then be busy (you often get a strong nesting urge). If you haven’t had much sleep, have a warm bath and go to bed taking this opportunity to at least rest. Don’t push yourself believing a walking marathon is going to get labour going – it will just tire you out.
If you’re calm and listening to your body, you will respond by eating and drinking, moving and resting, as you feel necessary. If you feel nauseous it’s better that you still eat small amounts of carbohydrate (toast, cereal, bananas, strawberries, medjool dates) and drink clear still fluids regularly. Isotonic drinks like Lucozade Sport can be really helpful and energising. Long, slow and quiet breaths during surges keep you calm and boost your labour hormones. When labour starts to establish it feels good to pace, sway, bounce and lean forward – get your birth ball out and go with it.
Family and Birth Partners
Share this information with them during pregnancy and get them on board. The most common reason women attend/call their midwife too early & during this phase, is through pressure from their loved ones rather than their own inability to cope well at home. Don’t invite everyone unless you feel you need their support as you will feel pressured to having more contractions & getting on with it – in this instance the process may stop! You may however need morale support and some TLC (tender, loving care) make this your Princess time – If you feel loved and cared for, you are more likely to feel calm and progress. Sometimes you want alone time and a darkened quiet place – believe in yourself and trust your instincts. Ask everyone else to keep their opinions to themselves. If in doubt ask a midwife.
A midwife will usually confirm how close to birth you are through a vaginal examination (internal) and explain any changes in your cervix. If you are in the Latent Phase the best place for you is back home with your family and home comforts. No matter what the dilatation of your cervix, the most important thing for progress is regular Contractions/Surges. If you are finding this part difficult, do not assume you’re not going to cope with labour. It can be tiring and a little soul destroying but keeping the birth hormones flowing is a game changer. In my experience once you feel reassured most women handle it beautifully. Don’t be tempted to ask your dilatation just ask ‘is this labour or the latent phase’. You genuinely are better off not knowing – just be led by how your surges feel and change. You have no control over this other than to remain calm and positive.
Birth Hormones and the Oxytocin Factor
Oxytocin is really important for life and for labour. Taking responsibility for helping your body release this hormone in the latent phase is going to help your labour progress and make a big difference to birth. Oxytocin is produced in response to all things squishy, lovey and enjoyable – so think what that is for you. Pet a dog, watch a romantic comedy, listen to music, dance, kiss, have chocolate and definitely HUG! Check out my Bluebird Facebook as I start playing the O Factor…coming soon!