Stages of Labor: 1st Stage - Early Labor
By Cixx Admin Date Posted.. 2009-09-22 16:25:57
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 Early labor is the longest of the three phases of labor and is the least intense. Early labor can take place over a period of days or weeks or hours. Because this phase of labor is the least intense, some women may be going through early labor without knowing. During early labor, contractions may be spaced 5 to 20 minutes apart and last anywhere from 30 to 45 seconds each. Be aware that there is a great deal of variation in these times. Don’t be surprised if your contractions are somewhat or very irregular in the earliest phases of labor. In the advanced phases of labor the contractions will generally be much more pronounced and more predictable. Do not time every contraction. This will only make labor seem to last longer.

Once you begin to experience regular contractions, you should make contact with your doctor or midwife. It is important to stay in close communication during this time. Things can sometimes begin to progress quite quickly and you want to be prepared to transport quickly if the need arises.  They will tell you what to do when in this phase. Some caregivers will instruct first time mothers to go to the hospital once contractions are 5 minutes apart for one hour.

As labor progresses, the contractions will generally become longer, stronger, and more closely spaced. Hopefully there will a corresponding increase in the dilation of the cervix as this work occurs. Be prepared for the fact that the first four or five centimeters of dilation often come quite slowly. Remember, early labor is the longest of the three phases if labor. It is easy to get discouraged at this point – particularly as the labor pains intensify. Take heart, however. Dilation typically becomes more rapid during the later phases of labor.

Early labor continues until the cervix is dilated to about 3 centimeters and contractions begin to increase in duration and intensity. Effacement will typically be complete (100%) at the end of this portion of the first phase of labor. Your water may also break during the first phase of labor – or in some cases before labor actually begins in earnest however, this is quite rare.

It is common to experience some vaginal discharge during this phase of labor. The discharge may be somewhat thick and pink-tinged. This is not typically something to be alarmed about unless it appears excessive or bright red. Either way, it is a good idea to be in close contact with your care provider. Many women will lose their mucus plug in the late stages of pregnancy or in the early phases of labor. You may also feel achy, menstrual like cramps, backache, pressure, fullness, indigestion, and diarrhea. Remember to drink plenty of fluids. If you feel like eating, eat digestible foods.

You may have thoughts of anxiety and fear knowing that this is it and wondering if you will remember everything in your birthing classes. You may also be filled with excitement and anticipation and feel eager to begin. The first phase of labor is a time to try to relax as much as possible. You will need to preserve your energy for the real work ahead. To the extent possible you should attempt to continue your daily routine or work on any last minute preparations for the trip to the hospital or the home birth if that is your choice. Taking a walk or a warm bath or shower can sometimes help take your mind off the contractions. If you believe that your water has broken, you will want to refrain from taking a bath due to the risk of infection. Toward the end of the first phase of labor you should be at the hospital or birthing center. If you are in close communication with your caregiver they will be able to appropriately advise you when to come in. Once you arrive, a cervical exam will typically be administered by your care provider to determine where you are in the labor process. By this time you should be used to the cervical exams – which take place both prior to and during labor to evaluate the progress of the cervix in becoming prepared for the birth of the baby. While these exams are uncomfortable, they can yield important information about the progress of your labor.


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