Stage One Labor- The Active Phase*

Welcome to the Active Phase of Stage One Labor

The active phase is characterized by even more persistent contractions that dilate your cervix from 5cm-7cm, these contractions effect measurable change, things typically move a little faster once you pass the six centimeter benchmark.

Your contractions may or may not feel more intense, they may not differ in length but you are probably finding your rhythm and when you do labor seems to flow smoothly in a predictable pattern.

Normally your contractions will have ramped up in strength feeling like something like a strong menstrual cramp, the length in between will have shortened to about 3-5 minutes apart. And they are a bit longer, about 40-70 seconds in length.

Your cervix completes it effacement. Friedman’s curve dictates dilation on the average of 1cm an hour. Making this phase average out at 3-6 hours. It is important to remember that even Dr. Friedman meant this range as an average NOT an iron clad rule.

This phase will typically last longer for first time moms. There will be a scant to moderate pink to bloody mucous show. You will also feel more pressure as the descent of the presenting part picks up pace as well.

The rate of cervical change does increase over time, and progress is made but it may not be uniform hour by hour. Your cervix continues to dilate but the rate varies wildly from woman to woman. The presenting part engages and by the end of first stage begins its descent.

The presenting part is normally the head, but sometimes babies aren’t head down. These births represent special circumstances and will be discussed under the Special Circumstances category.

Descent is measured by stations. I feel this is information as well as positioning is not often shared as thoroughly as it should by your caregivers. I feel it is well worth knowing and I will be devoting a post on these topics and the very good reasons you should ask about them. A woman deserves all the information she can gather such as the Bishop’s score, occiput presentation, and station.

The normal duration of the active phase of first stage labor varies with every book you read. If interference is kept to the very minimum then both mother and fetus fare well with the work of labor during this phase.

You will find yourself more serious and quiet, you go inward, but still desire companionship and assistance in coping with contractions. You are beginning to feel fatigue, you should rest as much as you can between contractions.

You have become immersed in the ebb and flow, losing all track of time, each contraction is intense, demanding that you go deep inside yourself, in between contractions your eyes close and you may even doze off.

You no longer have much interaction with the outside world. You say “its starting” and you and everyone else assumes their appointed stations and takes on their tasks.

Nurses and doctors can seem like real intruders, invading a private world. You find doing anything beyond handling a contraction as a very big ordeal. Things like changing position, taking a drink, going to the bathroom seem like heroic acts.

As long as they don’t seem to concern you, other events don’t even register on your radar. Your brain only has the tiniest thread of connection with the outside world at this point.

The difference between tensing up and releasing during a contraction has an even more pronounced effect upon your experience. If it is anxiety and fear making you tense up, this can make contractions feel unbearable at this point.

A positive appropriate action to take here is utilizing some deep relaxation techniques, and several of the Yoga Based Birth Skills can really be of use at this point as well, such as breath, meditation, mantra and one-pointed focus.

If your focus is full of fear, your pain will get out of control. If your focus is full of calm reassurance, you can go about your task of releasing and letting go.

This is the best thing you can do for yourself right now—because the final phase of Stage One Labor demands complete surrender.

The active phase of labor reaches its conclusion as your body makes the shift from opening the cervix to the beginning of your baby’s descent.

*Childbirth Physiology Resources for this post