To explore first-time mothers' experiences of waiting for labour onset, and to contribute to the discussion of existing practices surrounding perinatal care.
A qualitative study of 17 women in Norway. Diaries written by the informants and in-depth interviews were analysed in a tradition of life-world phenomenology.
The participants entered a state of active waiting, "the waiting mode", in the days around the estimated date of delivery. When the women entered the mode there was a marked change in the way they interpreted bodily sensations. The women experienced being in a state of constant bodily alertness, their bodies felt all-consuming and they experienced themselves as being "more and more body". This generated a sense of being enclosed in the body, intensely trying to identify the signs of labour. Being in the waiting mode seemed to draw labour closer in a manner that opened up for the birthing process and helped the women to prepare for labour.
The findings indicate that the estimated date of delivery is pivotal in shaping women's experiences of waiting. It raises concerns related to how women who are giving birth for the first time are prepared for labour, and a worry that too much weight is put on the exact date. A stronger emphasis on the diversity of women's experiences might be in place. Pregnant women could be encouraged to explore and interpret bodily experiences on their own terms, not merely in relation to the estimated date of delivery.