How to Identify the First Phase of Labor
It is very exciting when labor contractions start. Knowing the baby is finally coming can be very rewarding for expectant parents. However, knowing what phase of labor mom is in is not always easy, especially the first time around. Some of the easiest and best ways to identify early labor signs have less to do with timing labor contractions than observing changes in the mother’s behavior.
Mom Has a Normal Appearance in Early Labor
Unless the mother is having a very fast labor that begins suddenly, a typical early labor sign to watch for is that she has a “normal” appearance. Contractions in the early phase of labor will often be mild enough that she talk and walk right through them. Even if she pauses briefly during the contractions, she will be making eye contact, talking and responding normally in between contractions.
Contractions in Early Labor are Generally Mild to Moderate in Intensity
In most cases, early labor begins with mild contractions. Over time, these labor contractions can build to fairly moderate in intensity. Contrary to what mothers may read in some pregnancy books, early labor contractions do not remain in the “mild” category. By the time early labor is moving toward active labor, contractions will pick up considerably.
Early Labor Contractions Are Shorter in Duration and Farther Apart
Another consistent early labor sign is that contractions are generally shorter in duration. Labor contractions should be measured from beginning to end, which is known as the duration. The duration of contractions tends to be about 30-45 seconds in early labor.
Timing labor contractions also involves measuring the distance between contractions. Labor partners can time contractions from the start of one contraction to the start of the next contraction. This is known as the interval of contractions, or how “far apart” the contractions might be. One early labor sign is that labor contractions are anywhere from 20 to five minutes apart.
Things You Should Know about Early Labor
There are some helpful things to know about early labor when preparing for childbirth:
- Early labor is typically the easiest phase of labor.
- Early labor is nearly always the longest part of labor.
- Early labor is the first phase of the dilation stage (first stage) of labor.
- If the care provider were to check the mother’s cervix, it would measure anywhere from 0 to 3 centimeters.
- Other signs that happen along with contractions in early labor include losing the mucous plug, having frequent bowel movements, a nesting urge and a nagging backache.
Here is a quick look at all of the stages of labor so parents can see where early labor fits in:
- First Stage of Labor– Early Labor, Active Labor, Transition
- Second Stage of Labor – Resting Phase, Descent Phase, Crowning
- Third Stage of Labor – Placenta detaches and expels
What Should Mothers Do in Early Labor?
If mothers think they may be in early labor, a good rule of thumb is to conserve energy. Labor can be long, especially if this is a first baby. Resting or napping between contractions and eating to your appetite is recommended in early labor. Be sure to stay hydrated with drinks that have sugar and calories since water alone is not enough to provide energy for labor. If the labor bag isn’t packet up yet, early labor is a great time to get the job done!
It is generally recommended to spend most or all of the early phase of labor at home, unless the mother’s care provider recommends otherwise. Partners should attend to the mother in the early phase of labor as quickly as possible and assist her with fluids, position changes and reminders to rest.
Identifying early labor can sometimes be tricky for first-timers. However, with a few quick pointers and knowing the early labor signs to watch for, knowing where mom might be during labor and what to do is possible even if this is a first baby.