11 Things to Do During Early Labor

Pregnant woman sewing button on baby clothes
Jamie Grill/Iconica/Getty Images

Early labor, also called latent labor, is the earliest part of the first stage of labor. It is characterized by mild but consistent contractions that, unlike Braxton Hicks contractions, continue to grow closer together and stronger over time. 


Early labor is often the longest part of labor, sometimes lasting for days. Contractions may be sporadic at first and be up to 20 minutes apart. Since early labor can be very long, relaxation and distraction can be important tools during this phase. Here are some ideas for how to pass the time.

Don’t Go to the Hospital Too Early

Getting to the hospital or birth center too early will mean that you spend this uncomfortable time away from familiar surroundings and the things that make you happy. In fact, if you arrive too early, staff may even send you home. Additionally, early hospital admission carries a significantly higher risk of delivering by c-section.

Generally, it’s a good idea to call your doctor or head to the hospital when contractions are around 5 minutes apart and lasting 45-60 seconds. You should ask your doctor or midwife for instructions on when to call them when you think you’re in labor. They may have their own protocol.

Since subsequent labors tend to progress more quickly than the first, if this isn’t your first time giving birth, you may be instructed to come in when contractions are a little further apart.

People are often much more comfortable if they stay in their own homes for as long as possible. That's why finding distracting things to do is your best bet to avoid going to the hospital too early.

If your water has broken, you have a fever, or are experiencing any fluid leaking from your vagina, call your doctor right away for advice.

Relaxation Techniques

If you have taken childbirth preparation classes, you likely learned some relaxation techniques for coping with labor. These techniques can help induce a sense of calm and relaxation in early labor. 

Common coping techniques for labor include:

  • Mental and physical relaxation: Exercises like progressive relaxation, visualization, and repetitive mantras
  • Soothing environment: Aromatherapy, dim lighting, whispering
  • Self-hypnosis: Hypnobirthing techniques for relaxation
  • Hydrotherapy: A warm bath or shower
  • Comforting touch: Massage, stroking, brushing hair, holding hands
  • Change positions: Try walking, lying on your side, bouncing on an exercise ball, lying over an exercise ball, hands and knees
  • Deep breathing: For relaxation and offering needed oxygen to the fetus

Take a Walk

Walking during early labor is not only a great distraction, it also offers other benefits. Studies have found that those who remain upright and mobile during labor, tend to have shorter labors, lower risk of c-section, and are less likely to need an epidural for pain management.

Depending on the weather, you may choose to take a walk around your neighborhood or a local trail. If the weather is inclement, you can walk around the house or even the mall if your contractions aren’t too overwhelming. Once admitted to the hospital, walking around the hallways can be a great way to use gravity to encourage your baby to move down.

Finish Packing Your Bag

You've probably planned ahead and packed most of the things that you intend to use at the hospital or birth center. Now is the time to sit back and quietly look over your checklist and find any last-minute items that you may need, including your personal care items.

Some last-minute items to pack:

  • Phones, cameras, tablets, laptops, and chargers
  • Snacks, drinks, and other perishables
  • Toiletry items like your toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hairbrush, lotion, shampoo, etc.
  • Glasses

Take a Warm Bath

If your water hasn’t already broken, a warm bath can be just the thing to soothe and distract you in early labor. While there is some controversy over giving birth while submerged in water, the benefits in early labor are supported by medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Benefits of water immersion during the first stage of labor include:

  • Decreased use of epidural, spinal, or paracervical analgesia
  • Shorter labors 
  • Relaxation

To lower the chance of infection, if your water has broken, avoid sitting submerged in a bath. A warm shower may be a good alternative.

Bake

Baking can be a fun labor project that can help you relax and go about normal activities. You may want to bake some cookies or brownies to take with you to the hospital. Some people also choose to make a birthday cake to eat after the baby is born.

Hydrate

Labor is hard work so most of the time, your body will welcome sips of water. Due to the risk of aspiration, restricting foods or fluids by mouth has been an obstetric practice for a long time. More recently, though, medical organizations are recognizing the value of allowing people to self-hydrate when they are in labor. 

The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) recommends clear fluids by mouth in uncomplicated labors. Those at higher risk for aspiration, including those who are obese, who have diabetes, or difficult airways may require further fluid restriction.

Clear liquids include:

  • Water
  • Fruit juice without pulp
  • Black coffee
  • Tea
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Sports drinks 

Eat Light

Just as food provides energy for your body every day, eating a light meal in early labor can help you keep up your energy. Fasting during labor used to be recommended to limit the risk of aspiration. Recent evidence, though, does not support withholding food during labor.

ASA supports eating a light meal in labor. You may find that toast, fresh fruit, or a sandwich taste great in early labor while you still have an appetite.

Watch a Movie

Some people find that watching a movie is a relaxing distraction. Peruse Netflix or Hulu to find something that suits your mood. It can feel nice to snuggle up with your family for one last quiet flick.

Watching a movie can be a great time to try out a few different positions. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, sitting on or over a birth ball, and lying on your side can all be good positions for movie-watching. 

This can also be a great time to enlist the support of your partner or kids. Foot rubs, back massages, and hair brushes can be very calming when you’re in labor. And it’s an easy way for other people around you to feel like they are being helpful.

Fold Your Baby’s Clothes

Folding clothes is a nice activity because it's rhythmic and doesn't require a lot of attention. It also helps you focus on the new little one about to be born. And it can be a great way to get a quick chore done.

Fill Out the Baby Book

Filling out the baby book while you’re in early labor can be a fun way to begin documenting your baby’s journey into the world. You can fill out the pregnancy information or the family tree in the baby book if you have one.

Writing can be a nice focusing technique that can leave you able to stop for contractions and employ comfort measures as needed. If you don't have a baby book or this doesn't appeal to you, try writing your baby a letter.

A Word From Verywell

Early labor can be long and sometimes tedious. Finding ways to distract yourself and practice coping techniques is important during this stage. 

Remember, arriving early at your birth destination is not a good idea. Arriving too early puts you at higher risk for interventions, including c-section—and you may be sent home if you arrive too early, anyway.

Talk to your doctor or midwife about when you should call them or head in to the hospital. While you wait for that right time, try to relax and anticipate the joy of meeting your new baby.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Michigan. Contractions during pregnancy: What to expect. Updated October 8, 2020.

  2. Mikolajczyk RT, Zhang J, Grewal J, Chan LC, Petersen A, Gross MM. Early versus Late Admission to Labor Affects Labor Progression and Risk of Cesarean Section in Nulliparous Women. Front Med (Lausanne). 2016;3:26. doi:10.3389/fmed.2016.00026

  3. Kaiser Permanente. Labor & delivery: When to go to the hospital.

  4. NIH Office of Research on Women's Health. Labor and Birth. Updated June 6, 2018.

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Coping skills for labor without medication. Updated April 9, 2018.

  6. Ondeck M. Healthy birth practice #2: Walk, move around, and change positions throughout labor. J Perinat Educ. 2014;23(4):188-193. doi:10.1891/1058-1243.23.4.188

  7. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Immersion in water during labor and delivery. Published 2014. 

  8. Cleveland Clinic. Should you make water labor part of your birth plan?. Published 2019.

  9. American Society of Anesthesiologists. Practice guidelines for obstetric anesthesia. Anesthesiology. 2016;124(2):270-300. doi:10.1097/aln.0000000000000935

  10. American Society of Anesthesiologists. Most healthy women would benefit from light meal during labor. Published 2015.