Understanding the differences between these two phases will help you to make a better decision about when to head to the hospital, birth location or call the midwife!
Active labor phase: accelerated cervical dilation typically beginning at 6 cm of dilation.
One study found that 50% of women entered active labor at 4cm, 75% at 5cm and 100% at 6cm dilation.
What does early labor look like?
What does active labor look like?
A woman in active labor is typically using all of her focus and energy to get through her contractions. She is no longer able to talk during contractions. She has a very inward focus and will lose track of time. She will want to rest and close her eyes in between every contraction to get a break before the next one comes. She may request continuous support and comfort measures to help her cope with her contractions. She may make noises or moan during contractions. The intensity and potential pain level during active labor is far greater than early labor. She may experience shaking, nausea and vomiting. She may have a loss of appetite and sensitivity to smells. She may also no longer care about modesty, but will only be concerned with comfort.
When to go to the hospital?
We often use the 4.1.1. or 5.1.1. rule of thumb as a guideline for when to go to the hospital. This refers to having contractions that are five minutes apart, lasting about one minute long, for at least one hour. While this can be a helpful guideline, it is important to know that timing contractions is only one tool than can be used to determine labor progress. Contractions that are five minutes apart do not automatically indicate active labor or the need to go to the hospital. Looking at the whole picture including the physical and emotional indicators is wise.
Strategies that you can use at home to help you cope during early labor include:
- Distraction: cooking, organizing, get a mani/pedi, movie, games. Don’t exhaust yourself but do things that keep your mind occupied.
- Ignoring contractions and carrying on with your normal activities until you can’t any longer
- Continuous support from your partner, doula, motherBreathing and relaxation
- Meditations or HypnoBirthing techniques
- Massage and touchMovement, walking and position changes
- Eating and drinkingHeat and cold therapy (hot pack, or cold washcloth)
- Hydrotherapy – getting in the tub or shower.
Doulas spend time educating clients on this topic. We are always happy to talk with you and guide you during early labor to help you make the best decisions for you and your family.