How long does early labor last?

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If you’re reaching your due date, you may be wondering what to look for when determining if you are in early labor or not.

What is Early Labor?
Before you can even tell yourself your in early labor, you need to know what that means because the entire labor process is broken down into three stages.

  • First (active): From the beginning of labor until the cervix is dialted to 10cm
  • Second (pushing): The time from full dilatation to when the baby is born.
  • Third (post): After the baby is born and the placenta is expelled.

If you’re wondering where early labor fits in, it is part of the First stage which is broken down into three steps.

  • Step one: Early labor. From the beginning of laboring until 3cm dilated.
  • Step two: Active labor. From 3cm dilation to 7cm dilation.
  • Step three: Transition. From 7cm dilation to full dilation.

Difference Between pre-labor and Early Labor
Before you go into early labor, your body will be preparing itself. When you are in pre-labor, you will feel your cervix tightening in irregular intervals but will feel the same level of intensity and discomfort as they progress. Prelabor discomfort will come and go and disappear after a few hours.

In early labor, the tightening becomes contractions that will stay around and grow in intensity. Eventually, they will develop into a measurable pattern that becomes more intense and frequent.

Signs of Early Labor
You may be pulling out your stopwatch and settling into those breathing patterns you learned during your birthing class but still thinking if this is happening. Some signs to pay attention to that will let you know you are in early labor include lower back pain, cramps that come and go, waters leaking, nausea, and vomiting.

During pre-labor, you will feel a tightening sensation around your stomach area. This is your cervix softening and preparing for birth. Once your cervix begins to open, contractions begin, and the level of pain felt here will be different for every woman. It can range from menstrual pain, severe lower back pain, and strengthen in intensity and frequency until your body is ready to push.

How Long Does It Last?
This timeframe is different for each laboring mother and can last for different lengths of time as well depending on many different factors. If you’ve had a baby previously, baby’s position, how effective contractions are, and the amount of stress in your environment can all play active roles in your early labor length.

What Do I Do?
The most important thing to do is to do nothing. Your body will react and prepare as needed for birth. Friends and family may give you advice to help speed up the process, but overall, your body is doing exactly what it needs to do to help bring your child into this world.