Every woman's labor is unique, even from one pregnancy to the next. Sometimes labor is over in a matter of hours. In other cases, labor tests a mother's physical and emotional stamina. Though growing a full-term baby takes nine months, labor and delivery occurs within days, or even hours. It's the labor and delivery process, however, that appears to most dominate the minds of expectant parents. The first stage of labor and birth occurs when you start to experience frequent contractions, which cause the cervix to expand (dilate) and soften, shorten and thin (effacement). That helps the baby to pass into the canal of conception. The first stage is the longest of the 3 phases. It is actually split into two different phases — early labor (latent phase) and active labor.

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