The Latent or Early Stage of Labour

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The cervix forms the lower part of the womb or uterus. It’s an average of 2-3 centimetres long and can be described as a ‘tube’ of muscle. During pregnancy the cervix remains closed. It then begins to change as it gets ready for birth. The thick tube of muscle thins,oftens and begins to open or dilate. The latent or early phase of labour is the time between the cervix first opening up until it reaches 4 centimetres. .

As the cervix thins and opens, some people will notice contractions, and some won’t. Contractions are often irregular and vary in length and intensity and it’s normal for them to stop and start. This is your body getting used to the sensations, especially if this is the first time you’ve been in labour. .

The length of the early phase varies from person to person. It can last a few hours or a few days. Every person and every cervix is different.

How Do I Know It’s The Early Phase?

Early phase contractions are different from those in established labour. In established labour contractions will last at least 90 seconds and be very regular, often every 2-3 minutes. The latent phase is often irregular and contractions are 30-60 seconds long. There may be long gaps or pauses, then a cluster of them, then nothing for a while. This is your body getting used to this new journey.

What Helps During The Early Phase?

Having a clear understanding of what your body goes through during the early phase can help you feel better. Once your body has moved into established labour it can be quite hard to rest, so if you can, use this time to rest or sleep. Having something to eat and drink will give you energy for the journey ahead, so eat what you fancy.

Often sitting and focusing on the latent phase can make the time seem to slow down You might want to distract yourself with a movie, go out for a walk or listen to music. A bath or massage can be really relaxing too! If the contractions fade away, take the opportunity to sleep and eat, as they will return. During this time, you should feel your baby moving, just as you have during pregnancy.

Can I Go To The Hospital To Be Checked Over?

For most people, being at home will be more comfortable and relaxing, but you may want to contact your midwife for advice or ask to be checked over.

If you come into the hospital to be checked, you might find your cervix is 1 or 2 centimetres open. This is great news! It can take time to move from the latent phase into established labour, so your midwife will often suggest that you return home to eat, drink and relax.


More information can be found at:

Explanation point

Womb or uterusA hollow, muscular organ, located in the pelvis. The uterus is where a baby grows and develops until birth.
Established labourWhen your cervix has opened to about 4cm, you’re in ‘established labour’.
Dilateanother way to describe your cervix opening
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