Doula Chats: Emotional Signposts

July 25, 2022


How do we predict your exact due date? Dilation? Effacement? Baby’s station? Contraction patterns? Unfortunately, none of these can tell us exactly what day your baby will come. What about how long your birthing time will be?

Just like we can’t predict what day you’ll have your baby, we can’t predict how long your birthing time will be, but we can observe and pick up on different clues throughout your birthing time that can give us an idea of how things are going. How? Dilation, effacement, baby’s station, and contraction patterns can be helpful clues, but these numbers can change rapidly or very slowly. I’ve personally been one of those mothers who went from 7cm dilated to delivery in 15 minutes! I’ve also seen mothers sit at 8cm dilated for hours. A better clue is what we call emotional signposts.

There are 3 stages of labor - 1st stage/labor, 2nd stage/pushing, 3rd stage/delivery of placenta. Within the first stage of labor, there are three phases - early labor, active labor, and transition. Each phase is accompanied by a specific kind of emotional reaction. This is what we call the emotional signposts and what can give us hints as to when your baby will be born.

Contractions lasting about 30-45 seconds

You recognize a pattern to your surges and feel excited that the culmination of 9 (plus or minus) months is coming to an end and you’ll be meeting your baby soon. You might be tempted to go to the birthing center or hospital, but it will be better if you wait as this phase *can* last a while. Instead, continue with your daily tasks, read a book, watch TV, eat a light meal, go for a short, easy walk, take a picture, or even take a nap if you can. If it’s in the night, do your best to sleep, or take a warm epsom salt bath if you cannot. This is not the time to do lunges, squats, or other rigorous activities that will wear you out. Conserve your energy for later.

Contractions lasting about 60 or more seconds

As soon as you can’t smile for the camera anymore, you know you’re no longer at that first emotional signpost. You can’t simply pause and wait for the surge to pass anymore. These surges require your focused efforts and concentration on letting go and relaxing through the contractions. You don’t rush off to the hospital or birthing center immediately, but choose (with your doula and your coaches support) to stay home and get some of the serious work done at home. You are intensely determined as you focus inwardly on yielding to the sensations in your body. Husbands, this is when you start rubbing her back, encouraging her to totally relax, and serving her in whatever way she needs at that time.

Contractions lasting about 70, 80, or 90 seconds, rest periods of 1.5-2 minutes

Ironically, it’s when you question whether or not you can actually do this that you’re almost done! Your surges are continuing just as they have been, but possibly longer than before, and the uterine muscles are working hard to open your cervix those last couple of centimeters At this point, when people ask you questions, your answers will be less sure. You might respond with “I don’t know,” or “I’m not sure.” You also might say things like, “I don’t think I can do this,” or “I don’t want to do this anymore.” You may even ask for an epidural. It is your birth team’s job to remind you that you are close to being done. That you CAN do this and to do just 10 more, or 5 more. You’ve been doing a great job. They don’t let you give in to the self-doubt. They remind you to breathe intentionally, as big of breaths as you can. You may feel like the surges are overlapping and coming right on top of each other, but the truth is that they’ve been doing this for a while now and you’ve been coping beautifully. You focus on letting go and relaxing like your life depends on it. Your sensations can not overpower you because they are a part of you, and finally, after all that hard work, your baby is finally in your arms!

Not every mother will experience the signposts as outlined here. Some mothers progress so quickly that they skip the a signpost because they are what Susan McCutcheon call "Speedsters," or "Putter-ers." Regardless of which signpost you’re at, remember to breathe and let go. You can always let go just a little bit more. You’ve got this, mama. You’re going to be amazing.

Reference: Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way Revised Edition by Susan McCutcheon


*Susan Joy is a Doula and Birth Documenter serving the families of Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Scottsdale, Queen Creek, San Tan, and other cities in the East Valley. The information presented here is not medical advice. All medical decisions should be made after discussion with your medical provider.*

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