Dilation Stage: Getting Into Active Labor
In early labor, your body is just starting to produce useful and consistent contractions. The next phase of the dilation stage of labor is getting into active labor. This is often an ignored phase but it has enough distinct characteristics to warrant its own phase.
During the getting into labor phase, your contractions will continue to increase in intensity. You may start to feel you are much further along in dilation than you actually are. This can be a very frustrating point in labor. The dilation in this phase is between three and five centimeters but you may feel like you are closer to eight.
Some have called this phase the mother’s moment of truth. The excitement and optimism experienced in early labor often leaves. You may loose confidence, become frustrated, worry you may not have the ability to make it all the way though labor, become discouraged, and struggle to remain in control. You may begin considering pain medications.
Remember that God has created your body, hormones, and emotions for real reasons and purposes. Often this feeling of losing control causes the mother to give in to her body and turn control over to her body rather than trying to control her body. If you feel safe and supported in this, you will likely begin to go by instinct. Your body will let you know what positions you need to be in, you will find a ritual and rhythm in your contractions that will help you cope, and you will start to tackle each contraction individually rather than seeing the labor as a whole.
The effectiveness of your contractions depends upon the hormones your body is producing. The more you fight to control your body, the more adrenaline your body produces. Adrenaline inhibits oxytocin which is what your body needs to produce effective contractions. The more you relax and let your body do its thing, the more oxytocin will be produced. The more oxytocin, the more effective contractions will be and the more effective your contractions are the easier and faster labor will be.
Distraction during this phase doesn’t often offer the same benefit it did during early labor. You will start to concentrate more on each contraction. Using comfort measures during this phase will become more and more helpful. Your husband and doula will speak to you in a low, quite voice and will encourage you with words. This is a difficult phase but you can get through it.
Since you may be starting to think about pain medications, your husband and doula will remind you of your birth plan. If your birth plan included pain medications, this may be the perfect time to alert the support staff of your desire. In hospitals, it can take time to gather the needed medications and staff to perform an epidural so be patient while they make arrangements.
If you do not want pain medications, this will be a good time to try a different position or comfort measure. If the new position or comfort measure doesn’t seem to make a big difference right away, that is to be expected. Try to continue in the new position or comfort measure for about three contractions and see if it starts to help.
The getting into active labor phase is more of a learning phase on how to handle the contractions of the rest of the dilation stage. It is a practice phase and what you learn in this phase will be invaluable for the rest of labor.
This early labor can be compared to learning to ride a bike with training wheels on. The getting into labor phase is the point at which the training wheels have been taken off. You are still a little wobbly and unsure if you will make it but soon you’ll get it down. Just keep peddling, you’ve almost got it!
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.