Your cervix is beginning to change shape and some irregular contractions of the uterus are pulling the cervix toward the baby's head. This contractions and the baby's pressure begins flattening the cervix.
Women have different reactions to this phase. Some skip it because their labor begins fast and furious and others don't even notice this phase. But speacially for first time moms, this phase is experienced as a long warm up period. Knowing this fact in advance may help you prepare yourself emotionally, mentally and physically for this long period. Some women may be in early labor without noticing it. Some signs that you may already be experience an early labor are loose bowels, menstrual-like cramps, nagging backache, a mucous or bloody vaginal discharge (the thick mucous contained in the cervix during pregnancy) or the rupture of amniotic sac.
The rupture of the amniotic sac can happen either with a large flush of fluid or a constant drip. In both cases you must inform your practitioner. This rupture of the membranes doesn't mean that you will go immediately into labor. You may still have some hours ahead before delivering and once the membranes rupture there is an increased risk that bacteria can enter the uterus and cause an infection. This risk of an infection increases largely after 24 hours and if your were tested positive for GBS (Group B Strep) your labor will be immediately induced after your membranes are broken.
Some women may experience a burst of energy in the day or so before labor begins. This can be a sign that labor work will soon begin, but it isn't a reliable sign, although if it happens don't waste it in other things you may be attempted to do in the urge, because you will need it.
In a early phase of labor you may feel some contractions that are irregular. Your cervix is doing all of its effacing and thinning and during the first hours you may experience a low backache and some spasms. This may last for some seconds and disappear. This backaches and crampiness may come and go, but as time goes by this cramps may become more regular and frequent. To get through this phase if you be able to, do your normal day things. Remember that this is a war-up and try to distract yourself. It is important that you be as well rested as possible during labor. Try not to focus too much on the mild contractions of early labor because they can tire you. Use the breathing techniques and other labor coping tools to support measures until you really need them. You can control your contractions time, but don't overdue it. Frequently, contractions don't increase in frequency or strength due to dehydration. Be sure that your are well hydrated, this can stop prodormal contractions or move you on to active labor.
Near to labor time you may want to time some of your contractions to see where you are. To do this, you should time the length of each contraction, from beginning to end, and also the frequency of this contractions (the length of time from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next). If you are experiencing strong contractions coming 5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute each, 1 full hour (the 5-1-1 recipe), and you feel unable to walk, you are very likely beginning active labor and you should go to the hospital or the place you have chosen to your baby's birth. If your contractions aren't yet following the 5-1-1 recipe, wait another hour or so before go to the hospital. The 5-1-1 recipe main purpose is to avoid pregnant women to go to the hospital too early.
You should go immediately to the hospital if:
- Your membranes rupture and the amniotic fluid is green or dark yellow.
- You have heavy bleeding or severe pain.
- Your membranes rupture and you have been tested positive for GBS.
- Your first contractions are at least 1 minute long and less than 5 minutes apart. If this is happening you may be experiencing a very fast labor.
Now in the active phase of labor and your cervix is dilating from 3 to 6 centimeters. At this time, your contractions are regular and increasing in frequency and soon they will be 2 to 3 minutes away. Now, you can no longer distract yourself and each contraction you have may make you stop from moving, walking or talking. During this contractions, one thing that helps, is keeping in mind that they will end and you will be able to rest for a for a while. Each contraction will last only 60 to 75 seconds and after this you will be able to talk, drink something, change your position and prepare to deal with the next one. To reduce the discomforts of this phase you must focus on your breathing, try different positions to see which one are more comfortable for you, drink liquids, keep your shoulders loose and your body as relaxed as possible and most important take one contraction at the time.
This is a short phase an it will last 1 to 3 hours. During this phase, that precedes the pushing stage, your cervix will dilates from about 7 to about 10 centimeters (its maximum diameter). Contractions will come about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes apart, and last as long as 90 seconds. It is call transition phase because it is a transition to the pushing phase and it is very intense. The contractions are so strong that for some women is a relief to enter in the pushing stage. Now, any of the relax technics that you been using before, seem not work. You may feel shaky and nauseated and you may even vomit. It is important that you have someone nearby, because you may need help with each of the contractions. Once more is important that you remember that each contraction will end and that you will have a brief break, before the next one.
Some breathing pattern can help you walk through this phase a little bit easily:
1. As each contraction begins take a cleansing breath and then relax.
2. Breath rhythmically through your mouth. Take 3 short breaths in and out and then take another breath in and a long, blowing breath out.
3. At the end of the contraction take a cleansing breath.