Coping With Pain In The Early Stages of Labour

There is a lot to think about when your labour starts and this is especially the case for women who have not experienced labour before.

Most people have their own way of coping with pain. This is also the case for pain during labour. However, we have some tips that might help you to cope with labour pains in the early stages.

This blog will take a look at those methods to help you cope with labour pains.

What does labour pain feel like?

Some women experience very distinct signs and feelings during labour. While you are pregnant you may feel your uterus tightening from time to time. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions. When you go into labour, this tightening feeling becomes regular and much stronger. To learn more about preparing for labour and other pain relief options, read our insightful piece here.

The latent stage of labour happens at the start of labour and is the longest phase. This is when your cervix begins to soften, ready to dilate for the baby to be born. This phase is accompanied by irregular contractions. Contractions are when the uterus gets tight and then relaxes. Established labour is when the cervix is 4cm dilated and contractions become regular and stronger.

Methods that can help cope with labour pains in the early stages of labour

There are a variety of things you can try to help cope with labour pains. We have listed some of these below, for both the expectant mother, and the birthing partner.

For the expectant mother:

  • Eat and Drink
At this stage, it is important to ensure that you keep your energy levels are up. Ideally, you should try to eat something small, light and nutritious. Drinking fluids is a good idea and these may be isotonic energy drinks, which can give a little energy too. At this stage you may not actually feel like eating or drinking. Eating light energy rich foods like fruit or toast is advised if you are feeling hungry and want to eat. [2]

Going to the toilet is also advisable, as keeping your bladder empty allows your uterus to contract more efficiently. An empty bladder also allows your baby more room for descent through your birth canal and ensures you remain more comfortable. [3]

  • Breathing
Practicing different breathing techniques is another coping mechanism for the pain you may experience. This can help ease the pain during this early stage of labour. [4]

During this early stage of labour (latent phase), it is advisable to try to breathe slowly and rhythmically. When a contraction starts, breathe in slowly through your nose, drawing the air deep into your lungs. Pause for a moment, then breathe out slowly through your mouth. As you breathe out, try to relax your muscles.[5]

For the established labour stage, you may feel the need to take faster breaths. Focusing on your breathing can make you less aware of the contractions.

  • Rest & Relax
Getting some rest and relaxation is another coping mechanism you could try. Your definition of relaxing may be different from others. Finding what relaxes you is best. One thing you can try is having a warm bath. Warm water is said to help ease the aching type of pain in the early stages of labour.[6]

  • Hypnobirthing
Hypnobirthing is a relaxation tool used to help give confidence to cope with the pain of labour and birth. The aim is to shift your focus away from the pain that may be experienced. Techniques and methods using hypnobirthing include breathing methods as mentioned above, but also other ways such as visualisation and meditation. These techniques may help reduce anxiety and improve pain management during labour. They may not work for everyone though. There are various online courses and classes you can attend to learn more about hypnobirthing.

  • Other distractions
Although they may not help reduce the pain, focusing on other distractions can help you. Focusing your mind elsewhere to help pass time more quickly. This could be watching TV, reading or whatever your preferred relaxation method may be.

For other pain relief options, view our informational pain relief comparison card here.

For the birthing partner:

If you are the partner of a soon-to-be mother, there are also things you can do to help her mother cope with labour pains at this stage.

  • Massage
Having a massage may help. This could be around the shoulders or lower back. Massages are said to stimulate the body to release endorphins. These are natural painkillers that help relieve stress and pains.[7] One study conducted an experiment with 80 mothers and found that back massages were a more effective pain management approach than changing positions during the first stage of labour.[8]

  • Prepare and know what to expect as a birth partner
If you know what to expect you can better support your partner. Our huge range of labour pain resources is hugely beneficial for birth partners as well. Take a look and get familiar with FAQ’s about pain relief in labour. We also have a dedicated leaflet for birth partners, if your partner has a caesarean birth.

  • Be the distraction
As mentioned, the labouring mother could benefit from some distractions to help take their mind off the labour pain and focus elsewhere. For birth partners, it is advisable to help try and provide these distractions. This could be a whole range of different things to keep her busy and in conversation.

  • Be flexible, confident and supportive
Being upbeat, confident and supportive can be really helpful at this time. This can be by providing moral, emotional and practical support. If your partner feels like moving around and trying different positions, you can assist them in doing so and encourage them.

Overall just being next to your partner throughout the process can be the most important thing you can do.

At Labour Pains, we have a huge range of resources for expectant mothers, their families about pain during labour and pain relief options. Many of our resources are also translated into various languages.

If you have any questions related to this blog or comments feel free to get in touch. However, please note we cannot provide specific medical advice.


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK49392/
[2] https://www.thh.nhs.uk/services/women_babies/stages.php
[3] https://www.uhs.nhs.uk/Media/Controlleddocuments/Patientinformation/Pregnancyandbirth/Whattoexpectintheearlystageoflabour-maternityinformation.pdf
[4] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/what-happens-during-labour-and-birth/
[5] https://www.babycentre.co.uk/a544499/breathing-techniques-for-labour
[6] https://www.medway.nhs.uk/services/maternity/what-to-do-in-early-stages-of-labour.htm
[7] https://www.babycentre.co.uk/a544485/massage-in-labour
[8] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1524904218300298


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