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The first stage of labour

Stage 1 of labour is the stage in which dilation occurs and is divided into three distinct phases. This stage of labour is the longest and lasts for several hours. It begins with the first contraction you feel, which you must be careful is not a Braxton Hicks contraction, and ends when you are a full 10 cm. dilated.

The Phases of the First Stage of Labour:

  • Latent or early labour: This phase is the longest and fortunately the least painful. During this phase your cervix will dilate from 0cm-3cm and you will experience some light contractions. You will also observe some vaginal discharge that may be mixed with a bit of blood during this phase, that is normal so don’t worry. However, if it is more than just a tinge, call your physician immediately.

Pregnant mum holding belly

A labour of love
Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  • Active labour: This phase isn’t too much fun unfortunately. It begins when you are 4 cm dilated and in what medical professionals call established labour. Most hospitals will not admit you until you are in established labour unless there is a complication. From the moment you are admitted your baby’s heartbeat will be monitored in case your labour needs to be sped up. It finishes when you are either 7 or 8 cm dilated. The contractions during active labour are stronger and more painful and they usually come every 2½-3 minutes, but there are exceptions. Active labour can last for up to 10 hours, but every woman’s experience is different. This phase will be quicker if it is not your first pregnancy and/or if you have been given oxytocin to speed the process up. It takes longer if you take an epiduraland/or it’s your first pregnancy.

    Baby in towel

    Labour brings you one step closer to cute chubby cheeks
    Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Transition: This phase of stage 1 labour will last until you are a full 10cm dilated. Your contractions will be stronger, more painful and may feel like one long painful contraction as there is very little time between each one. These contractions are usually accompanied by an urge to go to the bathroom and to push, but you shouldn’t do either. During this phase your body may also begin shivering or shaking, you may feel nauseous and even vomit and will experience a lot of bloody discharge. All of these symptoms are a normal part of labour.

Remember ladies, you must NOT push during this stage of labour. Deep breaths, puffing and panting are the best ways to deal with the pain and urge to push which your contractions are causing. Birthing classes will help you prepare for this.

Also remember if your water breaks or you experience a lot of bloody discharge before you are in established labour, you must contact your midwife and/or physician immediately.

The Second Stage of Labour

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