8 Tips for Handling Early Labor at Home

We’ve all heard the story, whether from a friend, sister, or blog post: a laboring woman shows up at the hospital, eager and nervous, only to be turned away by the triage staff. This can be a disappointing and disheartening experience for many women, first-time moms or not. While practitioners have different guidelines that they follow for when a woman should head to the hospital or birth center, it’s important to spend as much time as you’re able to labor in the comfort of your own home.


Early labor — which lasts from the onset of labor until the cervix is dilated to 3 cm — can be very different for each individual woman. Early labor generally lasts about 8 to 12 hours, but some women experience early labor that lasts 2 hours — or 24! During this phase, it’s important to relax, enjoy some pleasant distractions, and stay calm and comfortable. Try our 8 tips for handling early labor at home.


  1. Call your doula. Even if you think that you’re not really in labor, or your contractions are few and far between, it’s a good idea to give your doula a heads-up. She probably won’t come rushing to your side but will have some helpful tips for staying relaxed.
  2. Distract yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of labor, but it’s important to conserve your mental energy and avoid obsessing over each contraction. Watch a movie, go out to lunch with your partner, organize your closet, or prepare some freezer meals for after the baby is born. You’ll know when it’s the right time to give your labor your full, undivided attention!
  3. Don’t forget to eat and drink. Many hospitals (although not all) have policies that allow you to only consume water, ice, and clear liquids once you are admitted. Since labor can be long, it’s important to remember to eat. Try snacking on small, easily digested meals: crackers with peanut butter, a roasted sweet potato, yogurt, or a smoothie. Staying hydrated is important too — you may want to get into the routine of taking a few sips of water after each contraction.
  4. Invite friends or family over. Having a friend or family member over to do something light and casual — playing a card game, going for a walk around the neighborhood — can be a welcome distraction. Be sure to invite friends who respect your birth wishes and you know will be supportive and relaxed. Now is not the time to invite over your dramatic sister who acts as though everything is an emergency!
  5. Rest when you can. If it’s nighttime, let your partner sleep. If you can’t sleep yourself, go to a quiet, comfortable place. Try lighting a candle and putting on some music. If it’s too uncomfortable to lie down with your contractions, try leaning over a stack of pillows or a birth ball.
  6. Take a shower. Warm water can loosen tight muscles and help you relax. If you’d like, try a warm bath (although note that being immersed in water can slow down your labor). For extra relaxation, try misting some aromatherapy spray in the shower — the scent can linger in the steam.
  7. Know when it’s time to head to the hospital. During prenatal visits, ask your provider when you should call the hospital. If you’re feeling anxious and need some reassurance, you can call your provider during early labor just to check in with them.
  8. Stay patient. As we’ve mentioned, early labor can last awhile! Your body is doing important work to prepare you for active labor and for your baby’s birth. Anxiety and fear can impede the progression of labor, so do your best to have patience with yourself and with your body. Baby is coming!


Staying relaxed and comfortable during early labor can help keep oxytocin flowing and allow your labor to naturally progress into active labor. Remember that early labor is a natural, safe part of the whole process — which will lead to your baby’s birth! It’s also important for partners to know this so that they can effectively support the mother. Partners can support early-laboring mamas in many ways. If your partner is anxious or unsure of how to best support you, here are a few things they can do to help:


  • Stay present with you and keep you company. A loving, reassuring presence means a lot during labor.
  • Give you a massage or backrub.
  • Offer you food and water, or preparing a meal for you.
  • Suggest simple distraction activities — a movie, going for a walk, or playing a game.
  • Help you with your own distractions, such as cooking or light cleaning.
  • Run a bath or shower for you.
  • Continue to offer reassurance, support, and love.


How did you and your partner handle early labor? What helped you get through early labor feeling confident and relaxed? Share your tips below!