The first few contractions can mean excitement and adrenaline are flowing while getting ready for a baby to be born. The baby is coming! Friends and family may be called. Boss may get notice not to expect you because...hold on... here comes another one...
But then that next part doesn't come.
The part where you go to the hospital and the nurses say, "Yes! You are in active labor, let's get you admitted!" They may send you home. Twice. They may tell you to rest, and relax. They may tell you this isn't the hard part yet.
What is going on?!
Welcome to the world of contractions. It may not be THE strongest muscle in the female body, but there is some evidence to show the uterus presents a strong case (other top contenders are said to be the tongue -which is actually 8 muscles, the eye muscles, the heart muscle, and jaw muscles.)
Even if it isn't the strongest, the uterus is a muscle and muscles are designed to contract. When a woman is feeling her abdomen tighten in a way she has never experienced before, understanding what is expected and normal may require some patience.
The first stage of labor can be described simply as a series of contractions that get longer, stronger, and closer together.
When contractions do not become longer, stronger, or closer together, they are not "labor contractions." They may be called Braxton Hicks contractions, or if closer to your delivery date - pre-labor, prodromal labor, or false labor.
What comes to be the distinguishing difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and pre-labor, (sometimes called prodromal labor) is that Braxton Hicks contractions typically don't cause noticeable change to a woman's cervix.
Braxton HicksSome descriptions of Braxton Hicks:
It is suggested that if Braxton Hicks contractions are being felt, a woman should ease up on activity, or change positions, and drink fluid (as she may be dehydrated). Use the restroom. Take a warm bath. Relax. After some time, Braxton Hicks contractions will usually stop.
Some believe that Braxton Hicks contractions are how your uterus prepares for labor, and the muscle is "getting ready" so to speak. I have seen it been described as "bicep curls for your uterus."
Irritating? Sure. Harmful on their own? No.
Pre-Labor, Or Prodromal LaborSome descriptions of pre-labor or prodromal labor:
A care provider may tell a client that she has no change in effacement or dilation (thickness or opening). A care provider can be asked about how soft the cervix is and its position, as those are important parts of progress as well. Or as one nurse I've worked with says, "You get credit for those contractions!"
So Is It Real, Or Not Real?Regardless of how it is classified, women should be believed when they say they are in pain. Braxton Hicks and prodromal labor both have the possibility of being strong or cause pain. A concern may be how long they last, but that varies widely from person to person - just as birth itself varies widely.
If a person believes it is Braxton Hicks:
If a person has been experiencing contractions for long periods of time but is then told she is not in active labor, it may discourage her and cause fear about what "real labor" will be like. There is no way to predict what a woman's active labor pattern will take, so remaining positive and encouraging is important.
If a woman is experiencing prodromal labor, she can do all the things mentioned above for Braxton Hicks PLUS:
Massage, music, eating and drinking regularly, and rest when possible (between contractions) can help prepare a woman for the time when her body begins to have contractions that are creating measurable change on her cervix.
If prodromal labor lasts to a point where a women does not feel she could sustain the intensity, time, and effort active labor may take, she may consider talking to her care provider about therapeutic rest as an option.
Having a team in place that is equipped to meet a laboring woman right where she is can help keep a woman encouraged, relaxed, and help renew her energy when necessary.
Remember, you get credit for these contractions!
Authored by Ariel Swift
You did it! You had a baby! You have looked into your precious little babe’s face, counted all her fingers and toes. You have eaten a glorious meal after doing so much WORK, and you have taken some time to call a few close friends and relatives to share the news that baby Amazing Lightning YourName-YourName is here with us!
You rest for a night (really, you stare non-stop into baby Amazing’s glorious face) then wake up feeling ready to share with your friends on Facebook that you have given birth and you are are fine, and oh-my-word-look-at-this-squish-baby-I-made-a-human!
But you pick up your phone, and instead of the news of Donald Trump’s latest rant and a quiz about what your coffee order says about your age, you are bombarded by…
Congratulations on baby Amazing!
You guys are awesome!
Love you both!
Can’t wait to meet baby Amazing!
You might be a little confused.
You ask your partner, Did you post it on Facebook? Nope.
Did your mom? Nope.
Instead of making an announcement then returning to love on your baby, you have become an amateur investigator, searching through the loads of notifications to see the one where you are tagged by The Perpetrator of the most heinous offense:
They stole your birth announcement.
A bunch of new feelings you were not prepared to deal with are now mixed in with all the other new feelings you were planning to not be prepared to deal with.
If they aren't your chromosomes, it's not your news. Parents are now making a social media plan before they deliver for just this reason. Besides planning for birth and labor options, they are thinking about their child's social media presence.
But as the planning moves closer to birth, some families are sending out an email/text/tweet to their family letting them know that news of Baby Amazing is asked to be shared first by Mom and Dad.
"Please refrain from posting information about Baby Amazing's birth until after it is posted by the parents. Thank you. Send food. Or gift cards. Love, freaking out almost-parents."
From the Doula Chair:
I've been in the room when a family has gone through this. It was with a family who had to unexpectedly spend time in the NICU, and were understandably occupied by things other than Facebook. When they found out they'd lost their announcement to an over excited (not close) friend, they were hurt.
In between learning their baby needed extra help and extended care, they were also trying to manage breastfeeding a newborn, pain from healing from a surgical birth, rooming at a hospital NICU that was not set up to care for a healing new mother, tender feelings from baby blues, separation from their family because of limited visitors, and stress of managing a house with pets and an impending move across the country!
They didn't have time to explain why they were in the NICU. They didn't know what they wanted to share. They didn't know what they needed. They had new priorities. And now, on top of all of that stress, they felt they were robbed of the joy that sharing their son's birth would give them.
As their doula, both being with them for birth, and then helping with postpartum care while they were at the hospital, I was witness to the vast pain that this one seemingly kind gesture caused this family.
Their friend simply wasn't thinking about what she was doing. She was on auto pilot. When they confronted her, she said she simply didn't think it was news that couldn't be shared.
So the family did what they could, and they kept moving forward. They sent out an email with their new "guidelines" for social media, and sadly, I found out they stopped talking to that friend.
If you have a friend and you know they are having a baby, mums the word. Not your baby, not your news. Not your birth, not your news. Not your chromosomes, not your news.
Are you looking for something to do until you hear that Baby Amazing has arrived? Here you go...
5 Things to share instead...
You've gotten the okay from the doctors that today you'll all go home! No test to determine if you know what you're doing, but here you go, jumping into the parenting wilderness with only two or three days under your belt.
After months of planning and peeing you get to see your baby's face without the help of technology. You can see how she still curls up habitually from her cramped first home, but still can't imagine how she was albe to fit. How did she fit inside of you?
The morning drags. Getting everything ready is slower and more tedious that you imagined. They check the carseat exists and usher you out of the door, and you are officially on your own. Your baby looks so small inside of that gigantic seat!
The car will seem to hit every bump Chicago can muster.
But you are going home. Finally home.
You carry your child up the steps and let the first sights, sounds, and smells wrap you and them in the warm hug that only this place can offer.
You have imagined what it would be like for so long, and now how does it compare?
You are a mom.
You are a dad.
Your home is not just an address, but where first words, first steps, and first loves will happen.
Regardless of the struggles that will come, in this moment, you and your baby have a safe place to land and nothing but the future to walk into.
Welcome home to the first days with your new baby.
Written by Ariel Swift
Ariel Swift does most of the writing around this blog, but we love having guest writers and visits!