Early Labor. (Latent Phase of Stage 1)


What’s happening: Cervix effaces 50-100%, dilates to 4 cm. Contractions 7-30 minutes apart, 15-45 seconds long. Can walk and talk during contractions. Relaxed in between ctx.

Your response to your first contractions shouldn’t be to pack your bag and rush to the hospital. That’s just what happens in the movies.

This is early labor. It can last from 2 – 24 hours or more. Midwives often say “give it a day.” For most pregnancies, it’s best to remain home for early labor. I tell clients to treat it as a vacation day… call some friends, go for walks, play card games, work on projects around the house. Try to keep yourself relaxed, and your labor will progress on its own without you worrying about every contraction. If you’re comfortable with the contractions without using special “comfort techniques”, that’s fine. Don’t work harder than you have to!

The standard physician interpretation is that 8-10 hours of early labor is “normal” for a first time mom, and over 20 is “too long”. If you are at the hospital, physicians may recommend pitocin augmentation if early labor is lasting beyond these norms, and pitocin carries some complications with it. Midwives generally do not set these kinds of time limits, and allow early labor to run its natural course, however long that might be.

Labor Record: Occasionally, you’ll want to time your early labor contractions. You don’t have to time every one all day long! Time 5 – 6 contractions in a row, and write that down. Then don’t bother timing again until it seems like things are changing. (Might be a few hours later.)

Starting Time

Duration (how long)

Interval (how long since the last one began?)


2:30 a.m.

40 seconds


Contraction woke me up



9 minutes















Comfort in Early Labor. Ideas for taking care of yourself and helping labor move along.

·    Relaxed Abdominal Breathing – see discussion in the Early Pregnancy section of this webpage. Start and end each contraction with a deep cleansing breath.

·    Distractions: Go to work. Go shopping, bake a cake, hang out with friends, play cards, work on a hobby. These all help you from getting too obsessed with your contractions too soon. Don’t worry, when your contractions need your full attention, you’ll know!

·    Rest. If it’s night-time, let your partner sleep! Try to go back to sleep.

·    Take a walk.

·    Vary positions: standing, sitting, leaning against wall, sitting on birth ball.

·    Eat: little meals often. Avoid things that are hard-to-digest, fatty, or spicy. Carbo-load: eat starchy foods, fruits, and vegetables. Sample: a low-fat yogurt at 10, a few crackers with peanut butter at 11:30, applesauce at 1:00, a handful of cashews at 2:00.

·    Drink whenever thirsty. Many women drink after every contraction. Try to avoid sugary beverages, as they may make you nauseous.

·    Go to the bathroom at least once an hour.

·    Take a shower. (A note about baths: If you feel you need to get some rest before active labor begins, taking a bath may help you relax enough to sleep. However, do not take a bath in early labor if your goal is to get labor moving along; being immersed in warm water in early labor can slow down or stop your contractions.)

·    Relax muscles during contractions. Relax fully in between contractions.

·    This is a great time to have friends or family members visit. They can distract you and support you while your partner rests up for labor. If there are friends who would like to be part of your labor, but who you don’t want to be present at the birth itself, this is a good time to have them over. It’s especially nice if you can involve friends who are looking forward to their own pregnancies and births. Pick friends for this time who support your plan for the birth, and who will be comfortable hanging out with you during your contractions without acting as though there’s a medical crisis in progress! Early labor is a relaxed, natural process, and they should support you in this.

·    Important to alternate: rest, relaxation, and activity. The activity may help move labor along, but you don’t want to wear yourself out.

When distraction is no longer possible, and when you can no longer walk or talk during the peak of contractions, it is time to use the more advanced comfort techniques described under active labor.


Wondering if you should go to the hospital? It is easy to get very excited as soon as early labor begins, and over-react: focusing on every contraction, trying out every comfort technique you have learned, and preparing to leave for the hospital. However, it’s best to stay relaxed and at home. Call your caregiver if you have questions. If he or she says “you could go to the hospital to be checked if you would like to”, ask whether he is saying that just to give you something to do, or because he really thinks it’s the right time to go to the hospital. If you do go to the hospital and find out your cervix has only begun to dilate, the nurses will let you know that it’s OK to leave the hospital again, and go home until labor has progressed further. For early labor, we tend to labor better at home, where we feel safe and relaxed, then in a hospital, where things feel unfamiliar and uncertain.


Janelle Durham, 2004.


Active Labor