october 2020

The Latent Phase of Labour (Early Labour)

For some women labour can be quick, but for most women early labour involves a latent phase, which can last for quite a few hours or even several days, before active labour and the birth of your baby.  

Karen McEwen labour Recommended Products
latent phase pregnancy

When labour begins, it marks the end of your pregnancy journey and the beginning of a new and exciting chapter: parenthood.


For some women labour can be quick but, for most women, it involves a latent phase which can last for quite a few hours, or even several days, before active labour is established. Labour and birth do not follow a set pattern, as every pregnant woman is unique and will have her own individual way of labouring.


In the latent phase, contractions, or surges, may be irregular and often sporadic, as they work to prepare your body to labour and birth your baby. Staying at home in your own comfortable and relaxed environment will enable the levels of the hormone oxytocin to increase (oxytocin is needed for contractions).


Coping strategies can be invaluable when you experience a long latent phase, as they can help you and your birth partner(s) to get through what can often be a tiring and emotional stage of labour.


Being active and upright during labour is often talked about, but there must also be an emphasis on balancing activity with rest. Your body cannot work effectively during labour if it is tired and depleted of energy. Remember that much of your resting may not be in the form of a long sleep but in shorter spells, where you may just rest your eyes and try to relax in between irregular contractions.


A few ideas to help you prepare for early labour:

Resting- It is important to recharge your batteries, no matter how short the rest or nap is. So, make sure your birth partner(s) know to encourage you to take regular breaks from being upright and active.


Nesting- If it means using all the cushions and pillows in the house to get comfortable, do it! Build yourself a comfortable nest where you are able to relax.


Massage - Birth partners and doulas are essential for providing massage and pressure for you. Make sure they know which types are more helpful by experimenting with different techniques during pregnancy and in labour.


Aromatherapy – Research this before labour so you know which oils are useful for their calming and energising properties, but also which ones you like the smell of.

An easy-to-apply blend of essential oils is ideal to have to hand when you are in labour. You may want to ensure this includes a grounding oil such as frankincense, an essential oil like grapefruit or orange, which will help you focus your energy and calming oils such as neroli and geranium.

You can use a small amount of these oils/blend on to your wrists, temples and pulse points, or spray them into a tissue or the air. Inhaling them will help to calm and centre you and focus your energy during your labour.


Food and drink - Your body needs to be in tip top condition for labour, so fuel it well by having your favourite drinks and snacks to hand. Try freezing water or drinks to help keep you cool, if that is what you fancy.


TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) - This is a machine which provides electrical pulses via pads on your back. These are thought to distract the brain from the contractions, relax muscles and help with endorphin production (the body’s natural cocktail of pain relief chemicals). Some maternity units do have them to lend during labour, so check with your local unit. If not, they are available to rent or buy from most chemists.


Hypnobirthing - can be incredibly helpful to release any fears surrounding labour and birth as well as teaching you how to maintain focus during labour.


Water - Baths and showers should not be underestimated for their powers to help with relaxation. Take a bath or shower as often as you like to help you during the early stages of labour.


Heat packs - Your hot water bottle or wheat pack may just become your new best friend during this time. Remember to heat it up regularly and use on your lower back or other parts of your body to relieve aches and pains.


Birth affirmations - Make your own or look online for inspiration. Positioning these around your home later in pregnancy can contribute towards a positive mental attitude, enabling you to stay focused during labour.


Language - If it’s soft tones and positive reinforcements you would like to hear or certain words such as ‘pain’ you would prefer not to, make sure you write these into your birth plan. Make sure you inform your birth partners of how you would like them and other people involved in your labour to communicate with you during early labour.


Feelings - Early labour can be a roller coaster, but this is your labour. It’s ok to be excited and happy and it’s equally ok to be tired and emotional.



For some women the early or latent phase of labour can last longer than expected. Alternating being active with resting, as well as using some early labour tips and techniques, can help make this part of labour be a more comfortable experience.