What is Active Labor?

How do you know if you are in Active Labor?

When most of us think of active labor, we think of the following rule. The 5-1-1 Rule should NOT be your Holy Birth Grail for gauging active labor. It is vague. You are concerned with when to head to the hospital or the birth center. Yet all you remember from your care provider are these numbers. 5-1-1. When your surges are five minutes apart, lasting a minute, and have been consistent for over a hour.

A regular pattern can suggest active labor but this pattern can also suggest early labor. It could be Prodromal labor. Most importantly while monitoring your surges, pay attention to your body’s signals, not just the contraction timer on your phone.

No one wants to be sent home because you are too early and no one wants to arrive too late if you are planning on receiving medication.

Unless you have a special condition, your best plan is to labor at home as long as you can. If you missed my previous post on Early Labor:


So let’s discuss active labor!

What is active labor? Intensity in waves are starting to pick up, they are becoming closer and you are no longer able to ignore them. Distractions are not helping. Now you feel as though these are definitely different then your prior surges, and if you are planning a birth away from home, now may be a good time to pack up.

First things first. Pick up the phone to call your medical care provider before hopping in the car. They will be able to get a feel for where you are in labor just by speaking with you and advise whether to come in or stay in the comfort of your home a little longer.

What to expect during active labor:

Surges are becoming stronger, closer and longer

Lasting 60 – 90 seconds and coming every 3-5 minutes

Unable to walk and talk through surges. Complete focus on breathing

Cervix dilates from 4cm – 7cm

Water may break during this time

May feel nauseated, shakiness

Increased back pain with your surges

Bloody show

Active labor typically lasts between two and eight hours

Coping Tips:

Take a warm bath or shower

Create a soothing, calm environment by using music, aromatherapy, soft lighting

Utilize proper breathing techniques during your surges and calm breathing between. Nice deep breathes keep mother and baby well oxygenated

Use deep moaning sounds during your surges

Massage and touch from birth partner

Swaying and holding partner

Changing positions

Use of birthing ball and peanut ball

Hypnobirthing (self hypnosis, deep relaxation)

Birth affirmations

Take one surge at a time

Relax between surges. Use this time to prepare for the next one

Remember the absolute best way to prepare for your birth is with education. Take a childbirth education class outside of your local hospital. Creating confidence is done through knowledge. Birth Centers are a great place to look! Hire a Doula. Join online pregnancy groups!

Next up is the final phase of the first phase (Early, Active,Transition), Transition. This is the most intense and shortest phase where the cervix dilates from 7cm to 10cm.


Tanya Grazione


One comment on “What is Active Labor?”

  1. June 21, 2024 at 8:25 pm

    Hey Marcie!!! So happy for you! You will be meeting your sweet babe soon!! Don’t worry about those car babes..fast labors are good haha!! Those births don’t happen that often we just hear about them when they do. Which I love because it shows how normal birth is without interventions. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns!

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