Spring Letter 2016
One of the most common questions I hear from first-time pregnant women is, "How will I know when I'm really in labor?" I usually respond, "You won't be smiling at me or anyone else." And then we talk about the stages of labor.
Early or latent labor begins when you start to get regular contractions that typically feel like uncomfortable pressure in the back that moves around to the belly. The pain can be mild or moderate, doesn't last very long and is spaced about 15 minutes apart.
During early labor, you can call your doctor to let her know things are starting to roll, but be prepared to be told not to come in just yet. Early labor is best spent at home where you can walk, rest, bathe, listen to music and have a light snack.
Active labor sets in when contractions become stronger, last longer and come less than five minutes apart. At this point, if you're not already at the hospital or birthing center, it's time to head in.
In active labor, contractions start to really hurt and it's hard to walk or talk through them. You are no longer smiling at your nurse or anyone else. Breathing and relaxation techniques can help, but many women ask for pain medication – most commonly, an epidural. The cervix dilates from four to seven centimeters during active labor.
Transitional labor is the most intense phase and can last from a few minutes to a few hours. Without an epidural, women feel strong pressure in the lower back or pelvic area. Some women become shaky, sweaty, nauseous and may vomit. This stage is draining, but the cervix dilates to 10 centimeters and you're almost ready to push.
It can take a while for first-time mothers to pass through all the stages and phases of labor, but the most intense part is usually the shortest. And, I can assure you from my experience helping many women through labor and having a son of my own, when your newborn is finally on your chest, any pain or anxiety you may have felt will quickly drift away – and you will smile like never before.
Linda Ciampa, RN