Labour is a marathon and while we can only prepare for so much of it, knowing what happens in each stage can help us both mentally and physically.
It’s good to know that labour has three stages: the first, second and third stage. In the first, the cervix opens; the second sees the baby moving down the birth canal and being born; the third and final stage is the afterbirth when the placenta is delivered.
Here we will explain all about the first stage:
1. The latent and active phase
The first stage of labour has two phases: the latent phase and the active phase. The latent phase is part of early labour and is the cervix starting to open from 0 cm - 3 cms. After this is the active phase which is the neck of the womb opening from 3 cms to 10 cms. The first stage can last a really long time, so it is important you are patient. In fact, the latent phase can last anything from a few days to a few weeks, and women can feel random contractions and back ache during this time.
The muscles in the uterus will contract at this phase making the cervix soft and flat and start to open. You will then experience a show – a white mucus discharge – from the cervix and is a sign that labour is not too far away.
2. Waters breaking
Your waters breaking is the first sign that labour is about to start, although this can also happen during labour. The fluid should be a clear colour but it can also be green, which means the baby has pooed in the womb, or pink which is an indication that there is blood present.
Contractions can start in the latent phase and you might experience regular tightening and relaxing of the womb, back pain and strong period pain. During this phase contractions can start and stop – this perfectly normal.
3. The active phase
During the active phase, contractions will get stronger, longer and be close together. They can start anywhere from a few hours to a few days after the latent phase; they will continue until the baby is born.