The definition of labour is the onset of regular contractions with dilatation of the cervix. At the bottom of the uterus you find the cervix, which also forms the top of the vagina. The cervix will go through major changes to enable your baby to pass through into the birth canal. It will gradually get softer and thinner and will then start to dilate to prepare for the birth. The uterus is made up almost entirely of muscle, which will tense and relax during contractions.
What Are Contractions?
All women describe contractions differently. Some describe them as severe menstrual cramps, some have persistent backache or a wave of discomfort that peaks and then subsides. What we can confirm, is that they will become more frequent and last for longer as the birth approaches.
In the Latent Phase (early labour) you will possibly experience mild irregular tightening, gradually lasting longer and becoming more frequent. No dilation of the cervix as yet. This phase is not considered as established labour. Established labour is the point of no return and is divided into three stages:-
Stage 1: From the start of regular contractions to the full dilation of the cervix (10cm).
Stage 2: From full dilation of the cervix to the birth of the baby. When the cervix is fully dilated you will be able to push the baby down the birth canal.
Stage 3: From the birth of the baby to the delivery of the placenta and membranes. This process can last between 10 minutes to an hour.