First stage of labour
This stage is usually the longest and can last days or weeks without being noticed though it often takes place a bit quicker.
The first stage refers to when your cervix begins to dilate and you begin to have contractions that gradually get closer and stronger.
This stage is again divided into three phases:
Latent phase - The very early period when your contractions just begin and you feel slight discomfort. You may also not feel anything at all when the phase lasts for a week or more.
When these early contractions happen, it is best to distract yourself by taking a walk, reading, sitting, talking and relaxing at home, as there is not much that you or your doctor can do at this time. The cervix dilates to around 3cm to 4cm.
Active phase - This is the time when labour contractions are much more regular and come in intervals of 3 or 4 minutes. The cervix may dilate to about 6cm or 7cm and you may find it a little more difficult to talk or relax. You may call your doctor or midwife at this point.
If you are given a Pitocin, the artificial oxytocin, your phase may last for a shorter duration unlike if you are using an epidural. If you have already had a vaginal birth before, this phase may also be shorter for you.
Transition phase - The contractions become more intense and painful. You may feel that the interval between two contractions has shortened and you may not even feel the gap between them. The cervix dilates to around 10cm.
You may get an urge to go to the toilet, as this is the time when the baby's head touches the rectum.
Many mothers get an urge to push at this time even though complete dilation may not have taken place. If you are taking an epidural and want to actively participate during the delivery and the pushing, it is best to lower your dosage of epidural at the end of this phase.
The exact time when you know that you are in actual labour can be a tricky one if your contractions start very soon and the gap between them are almost 4-5 minutes.
Early labour contractions may also be confused with Braxton Hicks contractions, which sometimes start half way during pregnancy and may tend to lift and tighten your abdomen a bit.