Active Labor Signs: How to Tell if You Are in the Active Phase of Labor

Once early labor is over, mothers will move into what is known as active labor. Here are some of the ways parents can read active labor signs to distinguish this phase from early labor as well as what to do if mom is in active labor.

Contractions in Active Labor Get Longer

One active labor sign is that labor contractions are now increasing in duration. Instead of a 30 second contraction, it is more likely to see a 60 second contraction at this phase of labor. While a one minute contraction might not seem very long, to a mother in labor, it can feel like an eternity.

Intensity of Contractions Increase in Active Labor

Gone are the milder contractions in early labor. These labor contractions in active labor are the real deal. They come regularly and when they do, active labor contractions can make a mom stop dead in her tracks. If she was not using many comfort measures in early labor, she will definitely need to use her breathing, relaxation and other pain relief techniques in active labor.

Labor Contractions Come Closer Together

In addition to contractions’ strength and duration increasing, now there is even less rest between contractions in active labor. It is a common active labor sign to observe contractions coming much closer together than they were in early labor. One active labor sign is noticing moderate to intense contractions (with the focused behavior as described below) coming as close together as every three to five minutes apart.

Mother Becomes More Focused, Less Talkative in Active Labor

An observable behavioral sign of active labor is that mothers become much more focused. They cease to be “chatty” and do not typically carry on a conversation even between contractions. How each mother copes with the intensity of active labor looks different, so this does not mean that mothers always become quiet at this phase of labor. In fact, some are vocal and may use vocalizations like moans and loud sighs during the most intense part of the contractions. The key here is that moms cannot be distracted from focusing on the labor.

Other Things You Need to Know about Active Labor

Here are some other quick tidbits to give parents even more information about active labor signs:

  • Active labor is generally shorter than early labor.
  • Active labor is often the beginning of the more intense part of labor.
  • Moms will need close, undivided attention from their birthing partner.
  • It is not unusual for mothers to begin to doubt their own ability to give birth in active labor.

What Mothers Should do in Active Labor

Because active labor brings on physical and emotional challenges, it is crucial to have a variety of comfort measures to try including breathing, relaxation, tubs or showers, massage and position changes. Sipping on fluids with sugar, emptying your bladder and moving around for comfort is important in active labor.

If moms have planned to get an epidural as a part of their birth plan, active labor is often the best time to get one. By the active phase, labor is well-established and receiving an epidural in active labor is less likely to slow down contractions. If moms plan for an unmedicated birth, her support team can guide her in a variety of comfort measures such as those listed above.

Many care providers recommend that mothers go to their place of birth when they notice several signs of active labor. Be sure to check with your own provider since issues such as travel time and history of fast labors might mean going to the hospital or birth center in early labor rather than in active labor.

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