Dilation Stage: Early Labor
Early labor is the first phase of the dilation stage of labor. This phase is often referred to as the latent phase, as well. You will recognize early labor as different from prelabor because your contractions will become more consistent and progress. During this phase, your cervix will begin to dilate. Early labor is considered to last until you have dilated to about four centimeters.
Early labor is typically the longest of the phases of the dilation stage of labor. It can be as fast as a couple of hours to a day or so. The speed of early labor depends on a number of factors: the thinness, softness, and position of the cervix; the position and station of the baby; and how strong and productive your contractions have been.
Early labor may not even be noticed by the mother for some time. You may think you are still in prelabor or may not have any noticeable signs at all. Once you realize you are in early labor, you will likely become very excited. The day has finally arrived! YAY!
You may be somewhat anxious. You may feel like there is still so much more to be done before you are ready to welcome your new baby home. Try to relax. You baby does not need anything more than you, a few pairs of clothes, and some diapers for the first few weeks. Rest in knowing that God is Sovereign. It is not an accident that you have gone into labor at this exact moment. His timing is perfect and you can rest in knowing everything is going to work out.
“Getting into labor emotionally takes time.” ~ Penny Simkin
If you feel like there are a few things you would like to have done before the birth, call in friends and family and delegate jobs to them. They will likely love to support you in your labor. This will be a way they can help you and feel a part of the experience. It will also give them a job while you focus on yourself rather than them just staring at you or you feeling like you need to hurry for them.
If you are planning on birthing at a hospital or birth center, check your bag one last time to make sure you have everything you need and have someone put it in your car. Call your doula and care provider and let them know what is going on.
Mainly, just relax and rest between contractions, take a few sips of water, have a light snack, and try to distract yourself during the contractions. Put on your favorite comedy, do some baking, or go for a walk. If you can distract yourself during the contractions, they will feel less intense and shorter.
“When a woman rushes her labor mentally, she may want to go to the hospital too early, start using rhythmic breathing and other labor-coping measures before they are really needed, and speculate that her cervix is dilated much more than it really is. Then when she has a vaginal exam and finds that she’s not as advanced in labor as she had hoped, she becomes discouraged and may lose confidence that she can cope.” ~ Penny Simkin
During early labor, you will want to keep an eye on the frequency and length of your contractions. There are several apps you can use or you can just keep a list with pen and paper. You should notify your care provider once you are having consistent contractions lasting at least one minute, are four to five minutes apart, and are strong enough that distraction is no longer helping and you must rely on comfort measure to get through them. This is a good indication that it is time to either move to your birth location or settle in for your home birth. There will likely still be several hours to go but it is a good indication that things are starting to ramp up.
Above all, try to relax, get as much rest as you can, stay hydrated and well-nourished, try to distract yourself, and enjoy these last few hours of being just a couple. Don’t become discouraged and don’t focus on the clock. This stage of labor takes a lot of time an patience. Just let your body do what it needs to do and try to rest up for the more intense feelings to come.
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.