The first stage of labor involves the occurrence of contractions to the full dilation of your cervix which is 10cm. It is divided into 3 phases: the early labor phase, active labor phase and transition phase. Each phase is divided according to the dilation of the cervix and are characterized by different emotions and physical challenges.
Early labor phase
Early labor phase starts at the onset of contractions until your cervix dilates to 3cm and thins out. You will notice that your cramping episodes may last for about 30 to 45 seconds, with 5-30 minutes of rest in between, in which your cramps grow stronger in intensity. It lasts for approximately 8-24 hours.
It is during this phase that relaxation and comfort is a must. You don’t need to rush to the hospital just yet and you can still do some light activities like walking around the yard or cooking. Do not overexert yourself as you need all the energy that you can get for the other stages of labor.
What to expect:
• More backache, indigestion and diarrhea.
• Bloody show usually occurs on this stage.
• Contractions feel like menstrual cramps and pressure may be felt in the pelvic area.
• Frequent urinating
Active labor phase
It is during active labor that you should be heading to the hospital as your cervix is already dilated up to 7 cm. Contractions typically last for 40 to 60 seconds and occur every 3-4 minutes with a slightly regular pattern. This phase lasts from 2 to 3 ½ hours.
What to expect:
• You will experience even more painful contractions and backache than that in the early labor phase.
• You may also experience leg discomfort or heaviness and fatigue from the long duration of labor.
• Your water may have ruptured at this time. Make sure to check for the color, odor and when it happened. It should be colorless and odorless.
This is the time for the partner/husband/support person to give you moral support and encouragement, massaging of the abdomen and the lower back is helpful too. You may also practice some breathing techniques that can be useful during delivery. Also, a pillow supporting your back and frequent change in positions can help relieve the back pain. Listening to music, reading a book and playing cards all be helpful distractions. Some other ways to deal with the pain aside from those techniques are:
• Creating white noise by singing chants, hums, and moans when you feel like it.
• To help progress your labor, try standing and leaning against your partner, sitting and leaning over a chair, walking slowly or just taking a warm, comforting shower.
• Water therapy is also useful. Relax in a jacuzzi, bathtub or shower for long stretches.
• Drink lots of fluid to replace fluids lost, and to keep you from having a dry mouth.
• If you are not hooked to a catheter, pee regularly because a full bladder can prevent your labor from progressing.
At the hospital, you will be monitored as needed to keep track of your cervical dilation and to prevent any complications that might arise. If the labor is too slow or goes beyond 3.5 hours, your doctor might suggest augmenting your labor. Prolonging it may deprive your baby of oxygen and cause complications.
If you opted to have an epidural or other pain relief options, you will not feel any pain during this stage. But if not, you are expected to feel the following:
o Strong urges to push will put pressure in the rectum, lower back and the perineum.
o Increase in bloody show or bleeding as the capillaries rupture during the descent of the fetus in the vaginal canal and pelvis.
o Due to the long-standing labor, you may also feel uncontrollable cramps in your legs.
o Fatigue, exhaustion and drowsiness may also occur.
o Warm, sweaty and shaky feelings.