First stage: Opening of the cervix

Information to comfort you and boost your confidenceTrust yourself and don’t be afraid to ask the person with you or the health professionals caring for you to give you what you need.


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

Progression of labour

Early phase or “latent phase” of labour

Before getting to the actual stage of labour itself, you may have contractions without knowing how things will go next. Is this 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 come to grips with what’s happening to you.

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 don’t feel the baby moving as usual.

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

If the contractions become regular (for example, every 5 minutes) and get closer together, more painful, and longer lasting (30 to 60 seconds), this may mean that you have gone beyond the latent phase.

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 rhythm of the contractions gradually increases and the cervix opens over time to 10 cm (complete dilation). The contractions are often very painful at 8 or 9 cm. They reach their highest intensity just before complete dilation at 10 cm. This phase is often compared to a storm. You may experience many strong emotions or you may want to scream. You may feel like you’re losing control and that it will never end. This is normal. Try to open yourself up to the labour, breathe, visualize your baby starting to move down inside of you and stay in contact with him.