I can still feel the anticipation of what labor would feel like.
In the weeks leading up to giving birth to my daughter Annabell, I felt both excited and nervous as I drew closer to my due date. Each day, my mind would race about how and where labor would begin, what it would feel like and how my birth was going to play out.
Then, one Saturday evening, two days shy of 40 weeks pregnant, I felt my first contraction while sitting alone in my living room.
My initial reaction was pure confusion. I had no idea what a contraction was or wasn’t, so I sat still for an hour until I could confirm that the sensation was increasing over time. Once I realized that it was definitely labor, I walked into my bedroom, told my husband to keep sleeping and went back to the living room to labor alone.
There I sat scared to both move and know when I should go to the hospital. The truth is, while laboring at home, I had no idea what to do with myself. I felt frozen and lost.
Five hours later, I broke into uncontrollable chills, woke up my husband and told him it was time to go. I arrived at the hospital, layed on a bed and remained there for 8 hours until giving birth to my daughter, Annabell.
Looking back, I can see the most important thing missing in my labor was knowledge. I had no idea what I could / couldn’t do during labor, which left me moving from a place of fear rather than confidence.
After speaking with many women on Expectful, I’ve realized how many of them were also uninformed during their labors. Women want to be empowered during birth, but many don’t know how.
It’s because of this that I reached out to one of the co-founders of Carriage House Birth, Samantha Huggins, to find our everything there is to know about labor. Samantha is a certified birth doula, mother of two, lactation counselor, childbirth educator and co-founder of The Code, a radical body literacy program for tweens.
I hope Samantha’s experience and insight bring you the confidence, presence and peace I wish I had during my birth.
What are the first signs of labor?
- This is one of my favorite questions because this is where we get to start to dismantle what we have been conditioned to believe is birth. Obviously, there’s the media version of birth, which is what so many of us think is what’s going to happen, which is this like explosive water breaking somewhere public… However, it is can actually be quite different than that. For example, your water does not have to break. Though your water breaking could be a sign that labor is eminent, it could also mean that your labor hasn’t started yet. I’ve seen people go into labor a day after their water breaking or even three days later. So yes, water can be a part of it, but it doesn’t have to be. The other side of this is that you can have a full labor and your water never breaks. So, ultimately in order for us to be in labor there’s only one word involved and that’s “contractions.” You must be having contractions to be in labor. Mostly, those contractions will be very inconsistent and spread out but eventually there is an active contracting pattern. You may also see a mucus plug or a bloody show which is a little bit of pink blood or red blood often mixed with mucus.
What do contractions feel like?
- A lot of people describe the very earliest labor contractions as feeling like a little bit of food poisoning or menstrual cramps. They are usually very irregular and very crampy at first and then, as your uterus tones and becomes more organized, the contractions intensify and you may feel the sensation as more of a wrap around feeling around the center of your body.
What time of day do most people go into labor and why?
- Most people typically go into labor somewhere between three and five in the morning because their brains are off. When our brains are off, we are not stressing, meaning we’re not making cortisol. This gives our body the space to make oxytocin, which is what makes contractions happen.
What do you recommend a woman does during the hours that she labors at home?
- If you’re laboring at night, we encourage you to use water. Water is great because it helps to soothe you and allow you to focus and discern where you are in your labor. In short, it helps you to go inward. To use water, you could take a bath, get a regular shower or take a shower where you sit on a big exercise ball that has a towel over it to avoid slipping, and just let the hot water run down your back. Next, we recommend resting. Rest can stop contractions sometimes, which is okay, because it’s ideal for you to get sleep. Rest as much as you can because you don’t know how long your labor will be, so plan for a long labor. For laboring during the day, we have a different approach. In our Carriage House childbirth education classes, we encourage people to make a long list of the things you’d want to have at home if you were stuck inside for two days. What foods and drinks would you want? What movies, playlist, etc? What things would comfort you? What things would make you feel good? While in labor at home during the day, use this list to help support you through the process. Also, we really encourage interacting with your environment if that’s something that feels right to you and is available, either by staying inside or going outside. This could mean walking around the block, hanging out in your backyard, taking your dog for a walk, etc.
What do you recommend people don’t do while laboring at home?
- What we don’t want you to do at is turn every light on in the house, start an Instagram live, call your whole family, or google signs of labor. We want you to go inward at this time.
When you are with a woman in labor, when do you recommend they go to the hospital?
- Our number one rule is, we go whenever the birthing person wants to go. If there is a reason that the birthing person says that they want to be at the hospital or a birth center then that’s exactly where we should be, even if I know for a fact that they’re only one centimeter dilated, and we still have a long road ahead of us. Some people do better being closer to their care provider and I deeply believe that we all have an inherent wisdom about our own bodies, and if you’re telling me that you need something, it’s my responsibility to honor you in that moment. However, this could also depend on when your care provider wants to see you, too. So, it’s kind of whichever one comes first, you deciding to go or going when your care provider wants you there. This can also depend on what kind of birth you want. If you want to be medically managed with with an epidural, then maybe you go when your contractions are five minutes apart, very strong and lasting for one continual minute for one hour.
What signs should a woman look out for that could indicate that she should go to the hospital? In your opinion, when is the ideal time to go to the hospital?
- The things that I look for that make me step outside of my comfort zone would definitely be blood. There’s good blood and there’s bad blood and I suggest talking with your care provider about what the difference between those two are. It’s a really great conversation to have. Another thing is how you are doing emotionally. I know many care providers ask on a scale of 1 to 10 rate your pain, but really the question that we should be asking is “How are you coping?” or “How are you feeling right now?” And if you told me that you were not feeling well, or that you’re scared and we can’t get to the root of why you’re scared, then it’s time to go because we need to change the environment and get you into a safe space…because we can’t have babies unless we feel good, safe and supported.
What can women expect once they get to the hospital?
- I think one of the big things that happens for first-time parents upon arriving at the hospital is that they underestimate the gravity of what happens between home and hospital, which is that you surrender your control. For some people, this is really welcome. They feel like the pressure is off and it’s not all on them anymore. If this is what you signed up for and wanted, great. However, if that’s not what you’ve signed up for, this realization can be very overwhelming.
Once at the hospital, what are some tips you recommend that a woman can do for her mind?
- We encourage families to bring a few comfort items from home. This could be anything that means something to you, such as a stone, a handkerchief, etc, that you infuse with thoughts of peace while pregnant. Then during labor, this comfort item acts as a real time physical reminder that you still have some ownership over something. Another thing you can do is take a deep breath. Breath is this beautiful gift that you can’t forget at home with your keys and wallet. It’s always with you. You can take a breath whenever you want, and there’s no right way to do it. It’s just yours and you do it the way it feels good to you. You can also bring music to listen to in your headphones and, not to plug Expectful, but listening to one of your meditations can be so helpful as well. Think about it, if you’re sitting in triage, and you have monitors on and they’re listening to baby’s heartbeat, what could be more beneficial than taking a moment to tune in with you.
Can a woman eat / drink during labor? What is the reasoning behind why some healthcare providers are against this?
- Eating and drinking really depends on your care provider. If you’re having a home birth, obviously you can eat indefinitely. If you’re having a birth center birth, most birth centers will let you eat until you’re not hungry anymore. Drinking, again depends on the hospital. Some hospital’s say clear liquids are okay, which could even include bone broth and miso and other things, whereas other hospitals would say absolutely not to all of those things. I have been to hospitals where they’ll let you have ice chips. I’ve been to hospitals which let you have sips of water. I’ve been to hospitals where they’ll tell you can eat a whole sandwich. So, again it depends.
Can a woman go to the bathroom during labor? What is the reasoning behind why some healthcare providers are against this one, too?
- I think anyone should be able to go to the bathroom whenever they want to. In my experience, people can go to the bathroom as long as they don’t have an epidural. If they have an epidural, they’re probably going to have a catheter, so that solves that.
Do you have any suggestions for how to stay present if things don’t unfold the way a birthing person anticipates?
- When I help people prepare for birth, it’s with the understanding that birth is a little bit like a rollercoaster ride in the dark. We accept that we know where the ride starts and ends but, what we don’t know is what happens in this middle. So there are two ways to ride, one is very rigid where we don’t have fun and instead bounce around, bump our heads and resist, and the second is we just let the ride take us and see how it unfolds. So, if something does happen that we aren’t prepared for, I encourage going back to breath. It’s never too late to soften into an idea. There’s always an opportunity for us to learn and to be able to do something in a peaceful and beautiful way. There’s not one way to birth. Birth is birth. So just try to stay as focused and centered as possible.
What is the number one thing you wish every woman knew about labor?
- The number one thing is that labor is perfectly unpredictable and perfectly imperfect. Remember that just because it’s a natural process doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Have patience, be soft and kind with yourself and know that labor is perfectly imperfect. After sharing everything there was to know about labor, Samantha Huggins offered to give Expectful users an exclusive 15% discount at checkout to get your discount today. on in-person and online Carriage House consultations.
At Carriage House, they use their shared birth and postpartum experiences and training to develop a strong, interesting and fun classroom experience. Whether at home, in a hospital or birth center, they believe that good birth outcomes happen when fear is replaced by confidence, understanding of the birthing person’s body and the very normal experience that is pregnancy and childbirth. To schedule and redeem your 15% discount for an in-person Carriage House Childbirth Education class, click here to pick a date and use code EXPECTFUL at checkout to get your discount today. at checkout. About Sam Huggins Samantha Huggins is the co-founder of Carriage House Birth. The premier doula agency providing birth and postpartum doula services, birth education, doulas trainings and more. She is a Carriage House Birth certified birth doula, mother of two little kiddos, lactation counselor, childbirth educator and co-founder of The Code, a radical body literacy program for tweens. Her journey into childbirth began early, having spent the latter half of her teens in a community that supported people and their right to birth in safe and celebrated environments of their choosing. After devouring any and all media surrounding childbirth in preparation for the birth of her daughter, Samantha once again, found herself in a world nourished by belief in a person’s harmony with their body. Energized by her own supported birth experience and of those around her, Samantha decided to leave the America Museum of Natural History where she focused on emergency preparedness and response planning for research collections to pursue birth work. In doing so, she set out to achieve her goal to empower and educate other expecting people so that they might realize their own capacity to work together with their bodies in the symphony that is the bringing of life. When Samantha isn’t attending births, speaking publicly on birth, or teaching Carriage House Birth Foundation Doula Trainings, she unwinds with a yoga, meditation and time with her family and friends.
Pregnancy can be a time of great excitement but also one filled with a lot of uncertainty, especially when it comes to things like preparing for birth. It’s my hope that providing education around labor during this interview with Samantha Huggins helps you to feel empowered throughout your pregnancy and informs you of the choices you have when it comes to your labor and delivery.