Pregnancy: Basics of First Stage of Labor for Dads

By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

The first stage of your partner’s labor encompasses the time between the first labor pain and complete dilation, when your partner begins to push. Because quite a few things happen during the first stage of labor, it’s further broken down into three types of labor: early, active, and transition.

Basics of early labor

Early labor is the time between the start of labor and dilation of the cervix to 3 centimeters. This is the longest part of labor, sometimes lasting a day or two. It’s also the time when you’re most likely to be sent home if you go to the hospital too early.

During the early stage, contractions are often far apart and irregular. In fact, they may start and stop more than once. These early contractions thin and dilate the cervix. In late pregnancy, the cervix is thick, and the opening between the uterus and vagina is closed.

Normally, the cervix thins before it begins to dilate, but there are no hard and fast rules. Many women are already somewhat thinned and dilated before labor begins.

Basics of active labor

Things really start to move along during active labor, which is marked by regular contractions that become stronger and dilate the cervix from 4 to 10 centimeters. Active labor takes four to eight hours on average, although subsequent labors are often much shorter.

A woman in active labor usually can’t walk or talk through her contractions. She also may become a creature you haven’t met before, one who knows words that may totally surprise you. If you’re not already at the hospital or haven’t called your practitioner if you’re having a home birth, now’s the time.

You need to be active in active labor, too. If your partner is doing natural childbirth, she needs help staying focused and breathing through the contractions. Don’t just tell her to breathe; breathe with her. Some women want you to count off the seconds; others don’t. Be guided by her responses, even if they’re a little impolite at the height of a contraction.

Basics of transition labor

Transition, the hardest stage, is the last part of active labor. Transition lasts from 7 centimeters to full dilation, or 10 centimeters. If your partner has a good epidural, this stage will probably breeze by, but if she’s going natural, transition can be difficult.

Transition can last anywhere from a few minutes in someone having a second or subsequent baby to a few hours in a woman having her first child. Typical side effects of transition include

  • Intermittent urges to push

  • Shaking

  • Vomiting