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On average, the first stage of labour lasts 10 to 14 hours...are you prepared for the long haul?

Obviously every labour is different but here is a guide on what to expect during the first stage of labour, with hints and tips along the way.

Even if you are planning a hospital birth, for the first stage of labour you're likely to be at home for a number of hours beforehand. For this time it's a good idea to get prepared with tools and techniques to help with contraction pain. A Labour TENS machine, heat pads, massage oil, music, combined with movement, breathing techniques and a bath/shower is a good start. 

Remember the longer you can labour at home the less your chances of intervention when you get to hospital. Here are the 3 phases of stage one labour:

Latent or early phase

  • The cervix opens from 0 -4 cm.
  • Contractions are mild and might be 5 – 30 minutes apart with no real pattern to them.
  • This is the time to start using your TENS machine. The TENS will help your body stimulate it's own natural endorphins to cope with labour pain.
  • This phase can take a long time with some women experiencing niggly cramps over several hours/days. Distraction is a good way to cope during this early phase. Watch TV, read or listen to music.
Active phase
  • The cervix opens from 4 to 8 cm.
  • Contractions are stronger and might be 2 -3 minutes apart, lasting 60 seconds.
  • Most women will need to stop and concentrate during the contractions in this stage. It’s time to switch up the intensity on your TENS machine and focus on your breathing. Keep moving, keep hydrated and ask for help from your birthing partner.
  • Many Midwives advise the time to leave for your birthing unit or hospital is when you're experiencing three contractions in 10 minutes with each one lasting one minute.
Transition phase
  • The cervix opens from 8 – 10 cm.
  • Contractions are very strong and can be 1½ – 3 minutes apart lasting 90 seconds
  • This is the most intense part of labour and often lasts up to an hour.
  • Focus and keep your breathing steady, use visualisation techniques, change positions, get vocal and ask for support.
The more tools and techniques you can have in your 'toolkit' to cope with the first stage of labour the better. If one technique isn't working, move onto another. Have faith in your body and remember all the women who have birthed before you. You can do this!

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