About labour

Latent phase

This is the period of time where the body is preparing for labour. Before labour starts, the cervix is long and closed and in a posterior position, during the latent phase it becomes soft and thin (called effacement) and gradually moves to an anterior position and begins to dilate.

The latent phase is considered complete when the cervix has effaced completely, has dilated to 4cm and you are contracting regularly. Most women will experience contractions within the latent phase of labour, which may stop and start over a period of many days. This is normal for this period of labour but can become very tiring for you and your birth supporters.

What you can do

The length of the latent phase is individual to every woman, there are some things you can do to try and help to cope with this period and encourage active labour but it is important to remember to rest when you can.

  • Go for a walk
  • Take a warm bath or shower
  • Drink plenty of fluids – water and sports drinks
  • Eat little and often – carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice and cereal) for slow-releasing energy, plus sugary food for quick releasing energy.
  • Keep your breathing deep and regular – ‘breathe in gently, sigh out slowly’
  • Lower back massage – ask your birth supporters to do this for you.
  • Using a hot water bottle or wheat bag on any areas that ache – your lower back, tummy (under your bump) or between your thighs. Be careful not to burn yourself.
  • Use your birthing ball if you have one.
  • You may find it helps to make love – kissing, cuddling and having a orgasm all cause your body to produce oxytocin (the hormone which stimulates contractions)
  • Put on your TENS machine if you have one
  • Experiment with different positions that you find comfortable, such as standing, sitting, squatting, kneeling and walking around.
  • It is ok to take Paracetamol at regular intervals as per the instructions on the packet.

Try to stay calm and relaxed in the early stages of labour

There is evidence to show that the later in labour you come to hospital the more likely you are to have a normal birth

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