What Is Active Labor?

When things go from not-so-bad to oh-boy!, chances are, you're in active labor. Learn what happens during this phase of labor.
profile picture of Sharon Phelan, MD
BySharon Phelan, MD
OB-GYN
Updated
Jun 2020
pregnant woman in labor at the hospital
Photo: Getty Images

Active labor is when things really get going! Labor is divided into three stages. Stage one—which lasts from the onset of labor until the cervix is fully dilated—is the longest stage of labor. During that time period, your labor will probably shift from not-so-bad to wow-that-is-intense! Childbirth educators and health professionals often talk about the three phases of labor that occur during the first stage (kind of confusing, huh?).

The first phase is latent labor. That’s when things are just getting started. You might lose your mucus plug, notice some bloody show and have some early contractions. During this time, your cervix thins out and begins to dilate.

The next phase of labor is active labor. You’ll know when your body shifts into active labor: Your contractions will suddenly require more of your attention. If you could walk and talk through your contraction before, you probably can’t now. This is when things start getting intense—and when most moms opt for some kind of pain relief. Regular, strong contractions during active labor will cause your cervix to dilate from about 4 centimeters to 7 centimeters (10 centimeters is considered “complete” and ready to “push!”).

The final phase of the first stage is transition, the stage of labor when the cervix dilates from about 7 centimeters to 10 centimeters. Transition is the time when some moms-to-be feel like giving up. Contractions seem to come on top of each other during transition, and you might feel like you can’t catch a break. Just know that “I can’t do it anymore” is a classic sign of transition, a sign that baby’s almost here and you most definitely can do it.

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