When it comes to labor there is no such thing as a “normal” progression.
The best way to approach labor is to be flexible and have confidence that the mother and her support team can and will handle whatever comes their way.
Childbirth is totally unpredictable, each human being and each birth is unique. There is a wide range of “normal” when it comes to childbirth. Labor does usually happen in a certain order, but the timing and intensity of the stages can vary greatly.
Prelabor includes contractions that can be off-and-on or constant, and can last for hours or days. During this stage the cervix is softening, thinning, and moving forward. The mother may have some preliminary signs of labor and may become discouraged or tired, especially if she is preoccupied with every contraction.
Slow-to-start labors eventually hit their stride, most of the time, and proceed normally after the initial long prelabor period. Fatigue and discouragement can become serious problems in a slow-to-start labors. The mother should be encouraged to pass her time by rotating between distracting, restful, and labor-stimulating activities, such as going to a restaurant, watching a movie, shopping, taking a bath, or baking. The caregiver may even suggest an alcoholic beverage or pain medication to facilitate rest.
A very rapid labor is also possible. Rapid labors have their own issues, including shock and disbelief, panic, a loss of confidence, dependence on her partner, and annoyance with caregivers. In rapid labors the doula and support group should be prepared to take charge and help the mother find her ritual that will help her get through her contractions.
Early labor can be anywhere from 2 to 24 hours long, the cervix continues to ripen, thin, and open. This stage of childbirth can be slow, so patience, optimism, and distraction are important. Active labor is usually between 30 minutes and 6 hours. The cervix continues to dilate to 8 centimeters and the contractions become very intense. Progress sometimes slows during this phase and may be due to the baby being in a position that is not optimal for delivery.
There are many positions that can help to move the baby into an optimal position, including pelvic rocking, slow-dancing, abdominal lifting, lunging, side lying, lying semi-prone, leaning forward, standing, and walking.
The transition phase can last anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes. The birthing stage usually lasts between 15 minutes to more than 3 hours.
So, an entire labor and delivery can be anywhere between a few hours to a few days. Each labor is unique and has its own unique challenges that a well-trained support team will be able to handle and help the mother feel confident.