What Is Active Labor?

You will know when you have transitioned from early labor to active labor quickly. Active labor is the second phase and part of the first stage in the laboring process. When active labor has started, your contractions become stronger, consistent and closer together. If you have been laboring at home, this is the time to head for the hospital, birthing center, or if you are birthing at home, call your midwife!

Active labor is considered the hardest phase of the laboring process, because it is the longest in length. This is when you and your body are working your hardest to get your baby down the birth canal. During active labor, it becomes harder for you to focus on anything else and to talk to anyone. Your body and cervix are working hard to dilate from 4 centimeters to 7 centimeters. When your cervix reaches 10 centimeters, you are fully dilated and are ready to push!

Some key signs you know you are in active labor are the following:

  1. Your contractions have become painful. You no longer can focus on reading, watching a show, talking, etc.
  2. Your contractions last longer. They may begin lasting 30 seconds or longer.
  3. When your contractions come in regular intervals and you do not have much of a break between. Usually, your contractions are about 3 minutes apart.
  4. The pain of the contractions may worsen as time goes on in the laboring process.
  5. Increasing backache.
  6. Leg heaviness or discomfort.
  7. Water breaking, if it has not already happened.
  8. Increasing bloody show.

During active labor, your doctor, midwife, or nurse may check you periodically throughout to make sure you and baby are okay. Some things they may check for include:

  1. Checking your blood pressure, especially if you had high blood pressure towards the end of your pregnancy or were preeclampsia.
  2. Monitor your contractions for strength and length.
  3. Check your baby with a fetal Doppler monitor.
  4. Place an IV just in case of an emergency or if you decide you would like pain medications.

Even though there may be a short period of time to “relax” during active labor, it is important to take that time to catch your breath and rest your body as much as possible. Tensing during active labor will automatically happen and you may need to work to not tense up and work against your contractions. A lot of women commonly want to fight the uncomfortable, painful feeling which is normal. If you allow yourself to relax and listen to your body during contractions, it will feel better in the long run. Listen to your body and go with the flow.

During active labor, it is extremely important to continue to keep moving. Also focusing on your breathing using techniques such as HypnoBirthing, the Bradley Method or the Lamaze Method is recommended.

  1. HypnoBirthing has become a more popular way to stay calm and focused during childbirth. It is a calm and natural way for the mother to connect deeply through hypnotic relaxation techniques.
  2. The Bradley Method teaches natural childbirth. The Bradley Method believes that if mother is educated and prepared properly, they can give birth naturally.
  3. The Lamaze Method is a classic birthing preparation that has been around for years. This method focuses mainly on breathing methods to help with pain during child labor.

miscarriage riskTrying different positions, massages, and hot or cold compresses will help ease pain and make you feel better. This is a great reason to have a doula on hand to help you and your partner figure out what feels best for you. You should also try to stay hydrated and eat something healthy and simple. Some practitioners do not allow any food while in labor, so discuss this with them before you go into labor at your prenatal appointments. Urinating periodically is also crucial. If your bladder is full, it may delay progress of labor.

Active labor can have varying lengths in time. For first time moms, active labor can last 3 to 6 hours and for moms who have already given birth, it can last 1 to 3 hours. Again, these are all estimates and ranges. These time frames can vary greatly.

There are a few things that may be introduced to you while you are in active labor that may make active labor more difficult. One common drug that may be given is Pitocin. Pitocin is a drug that is given to induce contractions. Contractions from Pitocin are much stronger and more painful. If a woman comes into the hospital with her water broken and is not having constant contractions and labor may be stalling a bit, this drug may be recommended. When labor and contractions become too much to handle with natural methods, an epidural may be introduced. When given an epidural, it is required you lay in bed. You can no longer move around which may cause labor to slow down. Usually, Pitocin and an epidurals are used hand-in-hand for these reasons.

Just like with any stage of labor, it is important to go with the flow and listen to your body. Active labor is most commonly the stage where interventions are made. Once one intervention is made, it is common that multiple interventions may be introduced. Listening to your body, hiring a doula, and creating a birth plan that includes methods of ways you want to cope during labor is your best bet to a natural labor.