family birth place

Early Labor at Home

Laboring at home

Many people find it hard to know when to come to the hospital for labor and delivery. We’ve all seen TV shows with pregnant women going from their first pain to a crowning baby faster than an ambulance arrives — and no one wants that to happen.

But for most people, labor is a long and safe process. Early labor can stretch over many hours or even days.

What is early labor?

Early labor can be painful but does not necessarily mean you are in active labor. Early labor is defined as:

  • Regular or irregular contraction pattern.
  • Pain rating from 0 to 6 on a scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain of your life).
  • Cervix dilated 5 cm or less.

Though early labor can be painful, you are able to talk through contractions, walk around and eat. Early labor can last for many hours or even days. That’s why it’s important to ease your pain and anxiety at home, where you’re most comfortable.

Laboring at home

Even when early labor seems slow, it’s an important part of the birthing process. Working with your body at home decreases the odds of more medical interventions later.

Explore options that ease your discomfort and increase your relaxation during early labor. Some of these include:

  • A warm bath or shower with lavender essential oils.
  • A couple large glasses of water.
  • Laying on your left side with extra pillow support.
  • Eating a delicious meal.
  • Walking and changing positions, including yoga poses like child’s pose, cat pose and cow pose.
  • Meditation, mindfulness and acupressure.
  • Listening to music and dancing or swaying.
  • Receiving partner support and massage.

Your provider may have additional options for making early labor easier and more comfortable. Your contractions may slow or stop from these activities. That's OK! It's just an indication that you're not in active labor yet.

How to know it’s time for the hospital

Your body offers signs indicating if you should labor at home or head to the hospital for delivery. Respect your body and your instincts. If you feel worried for yourself or your baby, you should contact your provider or head to the hospital.

When to call

Call your provider if you:

  • Have questions or concerns.
  • Have regular contractions five minutes apart or closer for one hour — or five to 10 minutes apart if this isn’t your first delivery.
  • Are too uncomfortable to walk or talk during contractions.
  • Experience a hardening belly during contractions that move from your back to front.
  • Have your water break or leak.
  • Get pink or bloody vaginal discharge.
  • Have contractions that continue in strength and length even if you rest or lie down and/or grow stronger while walking.
  • Are heading to the hospital, so everyone is prepared for your arrival.

When to go to the hospital

Head directly to Family Birth Place when:

  • Your provider asks you to.
  • Contractions have been regular, steady and growing in strength and/or frequency.
  • Contractions have been five minutes apart, one minute or more in duration, for one or more hours (also called the 5-1-1 rule).
  • You are can no longer talk during contractions.
  • The baby is moving less than normal.
  • You have vaginal bleeding.
  • Your instinct says to go.

Returning home for early labor

Please don’t fear coming to the hospital. We are here to help you and your baby have a safe and memorable delivery.

If you come to Family Birth Place and we find you’re still in early labor without complications, we may recommend you return home. Early laboring at home is associated with less pain, less need for interventions and a quicker delivery overall.

If you have any concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to call your provider's office.