What does the first stage of labour really feel like?

Early labour need not be as traumatic as it sounds. Our midwife reveals the (not always) painful truth

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You will have time to rest between contractions so don’t be too scared!

In the first stage of labour it’s all about your cervix dilating. It needs to get to 10cm and to achieve this you’re going to need contractions. As they begin, here’s what to expect…

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It’s going to be hard work

Ever had cramp in the back of your leg? Imagine that across your bump. Gradually your abdomen will feel tighter and tighter and the discomfort (or pain) will peak with the contraction. Then, just when you think you can’t bear it any longer, your bump will start to relax and you’ll feel the contraction easing off. It’s a bit like climbing a mountain and just when you think there’s no way you can go any further, you find yourself going down the other side.

Relax! It’s only pain

Some women describe the pain from contractions as the worst they’ve ever felt. Others say it’s more like a pressure than a pain and that it’s not nearly as bad as they were led to believe. One thing is undeniable, and that’s that the uterus is made of muscle and the more tense you become, the more painful it’ll be.

And although it might seem like an odd time to relax, that’s what you have to do! Remember, your body will have time to recover in between contractions and you’ll find that you can get a much-needed rest.

Enjoy precious moments of calm

Once the contraction has worn off, you’ll feel absolutely fine and might find yourself chatting quite happily, or even dozing off. Eventually you’ll start to feel the build-up again, but rather than tensing and anticipating the peak of the contraction, you need to actively try to relax: controlling your breathing will  help support this. Doing this will make a massive difference in helping you cope.

The transition stage

Just before you get into the second stage of labour, there is a period of transition that affects women in different ways…

To chill…

For some it’s the calming ‘rest and be thankful’ stage. Contractions stop, and your body restores some energy before the effort of pushing your baby out into the world.

…or not to chill

For plenty of other women, transition is not quite as calm a time. You might find yourself genuinely wondering if you can carry on – and shouting “Don’t touch me any more!” or worse. For us midwives it’s a great sign, as we know that the birth is pretty much imminent. As soon as a woman starts pleading that she can’t go on, we know she’s almost there.

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