Stage 1 of labor (also called dilation) begins when contractions start to open
the cervix. It ends when the cervix is completely open. Stage 1 is usually the
longest part of labor, but it lasts a different amount of time at each birth. Stage 1
could be less than an hour or it could be a day and a night or more.
What happens during stage 1 of labor
Stage 1 has 3 parts: light labor, active labor, and late labor.
In light labor, the contractions are usually mild and short (about 30 seconds
long) and come every 15 or 20 minutes. They are felt low in the belly or back.
The contractions may hurt a little, like the cramps of monthly bleeding or
mild diarrhea. Or they may not be painful at all — they may
feel more like pressure or tightening. The mother can
usually walk, talk, and work during these contractions.
As labor continues, contractions get longer,
stronger, and closer together. They usually start coming
3 to 5 minutes apart. This is called active labor.
For most women, the labor will become very
intense. The mother will usually need to stop
everything and pay full attention during a
contraction. She may feel tired and need to rest
In late labor, the
contractions may last up to
1≤ minutes, with only
2 or 3 minutes between them. Sometimes the mother
feels that the contractions never stop. But if you put your
hand on her belly, you can feel the womb get soft and
then hard again.