First Stage of Labor

Early Labor (Latent Phase)
What's Happening
The cervix continues to thin out and open, dilating to three to four centimeters.

Labor is meant to be gradual, so this phase may take quite a while -- usually about two-thirds the total labor time. Over a period of several hours, contractions will become longer, stronger and more regular (about five minutes apart, each one lasting 25 to 45 seconds).

The pinkish vaginal discharge (called "show") usually increases as labor progresses.

What Helps
It can be hard to believe that "this is it." Take time to settle down and work with the labor.

Once again, the best thing to do is to take good care of yourself: Alternate rest and activity (for instance, take a nice walk followed by a relaxing shower), eat easily digested foods (such as tea and toast) and drink plenty of fluids.

Many women find being at home -- where they can easily move about and do things for themselves -- the best place to be during this phase.

When contractions become so strong that you can’t talk through them anymore, begin using the relaxation and breathing strategies that you learned in childbirth classes. Your support people should be nearby, helping you to stay calm and confident.

Keep the environment pleasant and calm -- perhaps listen to music, get a nice shoulder massage, prepare last-minute things for the baby.

Active Labor
What's Happening
Contractions continue to become longer and stronger, eventually about three minutes apart and lasting for a minute or more.

During this phase, which generally takes from two to six hours, the cervix effaces dilates to about eight centimeters.

Women in active labor usually get serious and focused. Labor is very hard work.

What Helps
Now labor has real momentum. Develop a rhythm with your labor: Do something active during the contractions -- such as using a breathing pattern, movement or sound -- and rest between contractions.

As the strength of the contractions increases, so does your need for support. All present should focus their attention on supporting you.

Changing positions frequently not only helps you stay more comfortable, it also enhances progress.

The environment can influence your labor. Make it peaceful and personalize it with music, dim lights, etc.

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