Dilation Stage: Active Labor Phase
Active labor begins when the cervix has dilated to five centimeters. You will be considered in active labor until your cervix is at eight to nine centimeters dilated. This phase typically lasts twenty minutes to seven hours. First time mothers normally have longer active labor phases than women who have given birth before.
“The power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you.” ~ Unknown
The contractions become more intense and last longer in active labor. They typically last between sixty and ninety seconds and come at a frequency of about every three to four minutes. These contractions will be much stronger, longer, and exhausting. Remember that this is a good sign. It means you are progressing in labor and your contractions are doing what they are supposed to do.
Emotions During Active Labor
You will probably start feeling tired at this point. You may feel discouraged and frustrated. This is the perfect time to find your ritual and rhythm. Your ritual will be what you find what works for you during your contractions. You may find a certain position, motion (rocking on a birth ball, dancing), counter-pressure, or vocalization that helps you to focus during the contraction. Once you find what works for you, every time you feel a contraction coming on, you will begin your ritual again. This is your rhythm. Your ritual and rhythm will help you cope throughout the active labor phase.
You will likely become very serious and concentrated during this stage. You find conversation and other distractions very annoying. Many women tend to find privacy and solitude in the bathroom. This is such a common occurrence in laboring women that they bathroom has been referred to as the woman’s labor cave or birthing cave.
The most important thing to remember during this phase is to let go. Stop trying to control your body. Stop fighting against the pressure and pain. Let go. Let your body take over control.
“At this time, the mother benefits from a quite room, freedom to move around in and out of bed, and as little disturbance or interruption as possible.” ~ Penny Simkin
What Your Husband and Doula Can Do
Your husband may start to feel anxious and concerned for you during this time. A doula can help reassure him that everything is going exactly how it is supposed to go. She can give him a break and offer him suggestions in how he might better support you.
In her book, “The Birth Partner,” Penny Simkin recommends several things the husband and/or doula can do to help the mother during the active labor phase.
What dad can do during active labor:
It is important that your support is taking frequent breaks to eat, brush teeth, freshen up a bit, and even nap if possible. Hiring a doula can be a great help in these situations so that you are never left alone.
- Remind staff of the birth plan
If the staff offers pain medication when the mother has not asked for it, remind the staff of the mother’s laboring and birthing preferences.
- Follow the mother’s lead
If mother becomes quite and serious, do the same. Do not try to distract her or interrupt her, especially during the middle of a contraction.
- Acknowledge her feelings
When she says it hurts or she is tired, say something like, “This is really hard work. I know you are tired. You are doing great. Let me help you more.” You may not be able to physically help her anymore than you already are but hearing that you are willing helps to lift the emotional burden from her.
- Show her your undivided attention
During contractions, do not talk, even with others in the room. To do so, may make her feel alone or ignored.
- Help her with comfort measures
Slow dance with her, do counter-pressure or massage, vocalize with her, coach her in breathing, get in the tub or shower with her, stroke her hair, sing to or with her, whatever she asks of you.
- Offer her a drink after each contraction
It is very important that she stay well-hydrated during labor. Don’t ask her what she wants to drink. If she has a specific request, she will ask. Just offer her what you have.
- Support her ritual and rhythm
Pay attention to what she starts doing during her contractions. Memorize it. If at some point she gets out of her ritual and rhythm (due to an examination or other disturbance), remind her what she was doing before she was disturbed. The previous ritual may not work for her this time so as soon as she finds her new ritual, memorize that one.
During active labor, your body has learned how to produce very effective contractions. You may still be trying to control or fight against your body but the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is to let go and let your body take over control.
Last week, I used an analogy of getting into active labor as having your training wheels removed from your bike. You were wobbly and still trying to get the hang of things. Now, in active labor, you have figured out how to ride a bike. You know the trail you take and know every turn and bump. You know where you need to pump a little harder, where to lean, what pot holes to avoid, and where you can relax and just cruise.
In active labor, you are learning your ritual and rhythm. When you recognize the signs of a contraction coming on, you know what position to get into, you know the motions you need to make, the moaning that helps, how to coax yourself into relaxation and release, and when the wave starts to subside you know to take a drink and rest.
Active labor is a phase of hard work. You will feel tired and may even wonder if it will ever end. It will. You are getting closer and closer to holding your sweet baby in your arms. Your uterus is hugging him goodbye. Soon your arms will be hugging him hello.
This article is part of a series on the stages of labor. If you are interested in other articles related to this subject, you may find them on my Stages of Labor Resource Page.
If you are in the Denton, TX area and are interested in hiring a doula for your birth experience, contact me today to schedule a free consultation. If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in checking out my Comfort Measures in Labor page.