The Stages of Labor
Aren’t you glad to know that labor comes in stages? Once you begin real labor, your body will systematically, and instinctively, perform certain aspects of labor and delivery that help physicians know where you are in the labor process.
Some experts say that labor comes in three stages, while others say it comes in four.
The stages of labor are normally divided by the progress of the cervix, once contractions begin.
The first stage of labor occurs at home. This is the stage that usually coerces you into going to the hospital; it starts with light, timely contractions that seem to remain constant. They begin a pattern or a rhythm, and will last until delivery. Many women may spend several days in early (or latent) labor with fairly predictable contractions that thin out and dilate the cervix. It is not unusual for you to have a bloody discharge, which can be identified as the mucous plug becoming dislodged (this may occur the day of labor, or several days or weeks beforehand).
Once you begin active labor, you will know. The timing between contractions will get shorter, lasting for a minute or more each as your cervix becomes completely dilated; and the contractions will become more painful and will feel stronger. When you are completely dilated, at 10cm, you are ready for delivery.
This first stage of labor can take a long time. On average, women spend 8 to 12 hours in the first stages of labor. Often, doctors will give women pitocin, or another medication, to help the cervix dilate more quickly. It is nice to have the freedom to walk around during this phase of labor. Some women may even benefit from taking a shower. Just make sure that you outline your wishes in your birthing plan.