The Emotional Map of Labor

If any of you have ever read any books on the Bradley Method for childbirth, you may have heard of the emotional signposts that a woman experiences during labor. Unfortunately, this is a concept that is not very widespread, and I think that it should be because it’s extremely valuable! What are the emotional signposts of labor?

1) Excitement

When a woman first goes into labor, she is generally excited and a little nervous. “Today’s really the day,” she thinks! Her body isn’t working very hard yet on contractions. This is usually during early labor.

2) Seriousness

After some time, mom’s contractions start becoming longer and stronger and closer together. Soon, she becomes more serious as she has to work harder at dealing with the powerful sensations she is experiencing. This signpost is generally during active labor.

3) Self-Doubt

This stage is one that most laboring women usually remember well. It’s the one where we cry out, “I can’t do this anymore!” It’s when moms who wanted to go naturally are suddenly convinced that pain meds aren’t so bad after all. It’s when we want to quit and just wake up when the baby is born. This signpost occurs during that infamous stage of labor that we call “transition.”

Follow the Emotional Map!

These emotional signposts of labor create a map that the laboring mother and her support persons can follow. Here are some helpful suggestions for interpreting your map.

  • Use it as a guide for when to go to your birthplace. If you are still working with your contractions lightly and feeling excited, even if they are already 3 minutes apart, you’re probably still in early labor. Don’t rush off yet! Wait until you are well into the serious stage to move. This ensures that you won’t be at the hospital or birthing center for hours on end being interrupted constantly (which could very well lengthen labor and make it more stressful). If you make your move while you are feeling serious, your labor is probably pretty well established and you will make it to your birthplace in plenty of time to finish comfortably.
  • Use it for encouragement during labor. Knowing where you are in labor by how you are feeling emotionally gives you a sense of comfort and control. If you are feeling excited, you can know it will be some time yet and you can just relax and enjoy this early, easy labor. If you are feeling serious, know that you are making great progress.  If you are feeling like you cannot possibly continue any longer, you can remind yourself that this is a sign that labor is nearly over. Pushing will come soon enough. You have been doing beautifully so far, and you are almost done! This should be some encouragement to the laboring mother.
  • Remember that the emotional signposts are much more reliable indicators of progress than dialation. Dialation is NO INDICATOR of how much longer labor will take!!! You might have been dealing with early labor for 3 hours, be assessed at 5 cm, and still feel super excited. You may think that since you went to 5 so quickly, the rest of labor will go just as easily and speedily. Not necessarily so. Your uterus may have to work seriously at 6 cm for 4 more hours before quickly moving through transition. The excitement signpost can be an indicator that you still have work ahead of you. On the other hand, you can be assessed at 4 cm but be feeling serious self doubt. “Oh no! I’m ONLY a 4, and it’s taken me 12 hours to get here?!?” You can, however, be 4 cm-going-on-pushing. Again, the emotional signpost is much more reliable than the number on your cervix.

I think it would be very helpful for moms and support people to remember these emotional signposts. Sometimes mom can become discouraged by numbers and arbitrary time limits that their care providers set. Remind yourselves to check in to how you are feeling for a more accurate idea of where you are in labor. When in doubt, follow the map!


4 responses to this post.

  1. This is a great guide and would be helpful for any mother to be.


  2. Posted by Mrs. Won on January 18, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Yes! I read about the three emotional signposts in NATURAL CHILDBIRTH THE BRADLEY WAY, by Susan McCutcheon. Awesome book. My sister and her husband used it for their birth and they asked me to read the book since I was going to be with them for the birth. The information was so good that we all recognized the signposts. By the way, she had a completely natural birth, no IV, no monitor, no drugs, no episiotomy and a great doctor. She used the information in the book to help her find the right doctor and the right hospital. Fantastic experience for all of us, mom, dad, auntie (that’s me) and baby.


  3. […] while ago, I wrote a blog post on the Emotional Map of Labor. I recently witnessed the usefulness of this information in action at a birth. Mom’s labor […]


  4. […] hit that final sign post.  I lost my mind (Todd and Debbie have been trying to convince me that I didn’t really lose […]


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