This is the first part of labour and is the stage from when the cervix is closed until it is dilated to around 4cm. It does not last a specific amount of time and you can experience painful tightenings or contractions irregularly for 24 hours or more.
Contractions can last 30 to 60 seconds, and can vary in frequency from five to twenty minutes apart. Some women have backache which comes and goes, or stomach cramps. These can all stop and then start up again later on. This is all perfectly normal and is unique for every woman.
The latent phase can last up to 24 hours or more and can be an extremely tiring event, so ensuring that you rest as much as possible and also eating and drinking is very important. The most appropriate place to be during this phase is in your home environment, where you feel the most comfortable as this is where the labour is more likely to progress faster.
Entering a clinical hospital environment at this early stage can increase adrenaline levels, which suppress the body’s natural labour hormones and can slow down the labour. During this latent phase the cervix, which was previously long and closed during pregnancy, gradually thins out and begins opening and this can often result in the passing of a mucousy ‘show’ from the vagina which might be clear or pinky in colour and is normal. When the contractions eventually become very regular (at least three in ten minutes), stronger (you are no longer able to talk through them) and longer lasting (more than 60 seconds) the labour becomes active/established.