What is latent labor, how long does it last and is there anything you can do to speed it up?
How do I know all of this? Hi, I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse. I’ve been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of labor and delivery experience. After seeing thousands and thousands of moms in early labor (plus being in labor three times on my own) — I can really speak to what it is and what you’ll experience.
I have a whole Online Prenatal Class for Couples that covers from bump to bassinette. I also talk a LOT about early labor, how to cope and manage it at home.
I give the magic formula of when to go to the hospital in my Online Prenatal Class. You can prepare for your confident delivery in less than 3 hours. I hope you’ll join me!
What is Latent Labor?
Latent Labor begins once your cervix starts to open and lasts until you are in “active” labor.
What does Latent Labor Feel Like?
Latent labor can often feel just like the aches and pains of pregnancy, at least early on.
After that it starts to feel like period cramps. Often low back pain or lower abdomen cramping.
It can then progress to involve your entire abdomen and possibly your back being in pain. At this point, it is more likely you are in “true labor“.
I find it to be similar to painful stomach cramps with the flu or food poisoning — but it is also different (and has the anxiety of “labor” behind it).
How long does latent labor last?
The duration of latent labor varies. It mostly depends on when your body decides to make harder, more-frequent contractions.
Many people don’t notice early latent labor — it can feel similar to the regular aches and pains of pregnancy.
What is a prolonged latent labor?
It just means early contractions that last a long time.
Often people will contact for a full day even up to days before they go into active labor.
I know we all view labor as something that just “happens” and you know you’re in labor. But often labor feels like just feeling crappy, and it slowly progresses into something more that you can’t deny is labor.
Why would someone’s latent labor be prolonged?
Most likely it’s based on the frequency and how hard your contractions are (and yes, I talk all about both of those in my class and how to count them).
Dehydration can cause something that looks similar to latent labor (but isn’t even labor because dehydration contractions don’t open your cervix).
How do I know latent labor has ended?
Most often your contractions will be every 2-5 minutes (depending on what # baby you are on) for about an hour, and painful enough that you can’t talk through them.
However, it’s mostly when it’s just more and more painful and your cervix is 4-6 centimeters.
How do I know when to to go the hospital?
I have a whole formula that I recommend in my Online Prenatal Class so that couples have a pretty good idea of when to go.
That being said, I would talk with your provider about when YOU should head to the hospital. That timeframe can vary for several reasons:
- Any previous surgeries
- Placental issues
- GBS (group beta strep) status
- Traffic in your area
- Your timeframe away from the hospital
What are the other phases of labor?
There are four phases of labor
Phase 1: Latent (or early) labor >> which we’ve been talking about.
Phase 2: Active Labor >> This starts when your cervix is about 4-6 centimeters (doctors argue on that one — I define it more that your cervix is actively opening)
Phase 3: Pushing/Delivery of the baby >> I have a whole post on the pushing phase of labor.
Phase 4: Delivery of the placenta
Some people believe there is a 5th phase of labor as your uterus contracts back down, but that isn’t “official”.
In general, latent labor is the most confusing stage of labor. The “start” of it varies (as labor may often come and go as you head into your due date), and since even medical professionals can’t agree on when it “ends” — that makes it confusing.
I hope this helped you realize that labor in the beginning can be long and confusing. Be sure to take a class to get prepared on what to expect throughout the labor process!
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice.
She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.