First stage: Thinning and opening of the cervix

Information to comfort you and boost your confidenceLabour can be intense and bring strong feelings and emotions. Trust yourself and don’t be afraid to ask the person with you or your healthcare team for what you need.

The first stage of labour is the period when your contractions start to be regular. These contractions allow the cervix to thin (efface) and open completely (dilate), until it is 10 centimetres wide.

Progression of labour

Early phase or “latent phase” of labour

During the latent phase, you may have contractions without being certain what they mean. Is it the start of labour or a false alarm?

At the beginning, the contractions are not very strong. You’ll be able to talk during a contraction. They are often irregular and don’t last very long. Try to stay calm and don’t forget to sleep and eat. Feel free to take a bath or shower if you like. Take this opportunity to get accustomed to what’s happening inside your body.

This phase may be long or short; you’ll need to be patient. It’s not yet time to go to the hospital or birthing centre unless your water breaks or you no longer feel the baby moving.

If your contractions become weaker or stop altogether, this is called false labour. Something is happening inside you, but it’s preparatory labour that is helping to “ripen” the cervix.

Active labour

At some point, you’ll feel that labour is progressing. The contractions are painful and are closer together, longer and more intense. This is the active phase of labour: the cervix has thinned (effaced) and is open (or dilated) to about 3 to 5 centimetres.

The strength of the contractions gradually increases and the cervix gradually opens to 10 cm (complete dilation). The contractions are often very painful at 8 or 9 cm. They are most intense just before complete dilation at 10 cm.

This phase is often compared to a storm. You may experience strong emotions or feel the need to make noise or scream. You may feel like you’re losing control and that it will never end. This is normal.

Try to give in to the labour, breathe, visualize your baby starting to move down inside of you and stay in contact with her (see Understanding and coping with pain).


Labour: Process by which the baby passes from the uterus to the outside world, primarily through contractions of the uterus.