The latent phase of labour …. how long?!

This week I have met many couples in the early stage of labour, or latent phase. Some women quickly progressed into labour and had their babies, whereas other women came in and then home again before meeting theirs.

 The latent phase where the cervix moves to the front of baby’s head, starts to thin, soften and starts to open can take an unpredictable amount of time, particulary with the first baby. One partner said “All the books say to come into the hospital when the contractions are coming every 3 minutes,why is my wife not actually in labour yet???”… two days in. This highlights how every woman and baby are different and a text book cannot predict how a birth might be.
Labour becomes ‘established’ when the cervix is 4cm dilated, but the process to labour may involve frequent phone calls with the midwives, an assessment and possibly going home again. The latent phase is often why women recall being in labour for days and days, but this is not established labour and therefore is not counted in the overall time labour takes.
There are many things you can do to help, these include:
  • Eating, even if you don’t feel like it, grazing with snacks will help labour progress
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Distract yourself, go for a walk, watch a film
  • Have a birthing ball blown up
  • Have a bath
  • Take paracetamol
  • Have a hot water bottle
  • Hire a tens machine
  • Massage
  • Have a balance between rest and movement…relax
One of the most important techniques is learning how to breathe, this will really help with the contractions. We advise breathing slowly and deeply ‘in through your nose’ and ‘out of your mouth’. Once the contraction is finished, remember to relax your shoulders and your jaw. This advice is best shared with your birth partner so they can remind you!
The midwife is only a phone call away to discuss how you are feeling, but trying everything you can at home will help. Although it may seem mean that we want you to stay at home as long as possible, we know that you have everything you need at home, you can potter about, have a sleep and feel more relaxed.
The best thing about labour is that it is not forever and you get the best prize at the end.