Most of your hours in labor will be taking place while you dilate from 0-6cm. This could be two days, or it could be less than an hour. For a first labor, 10-20 hours, plus or minus 8-10 hours...for this part is common.
Once you get to 6cm, most of your labor is past. It's prob way more than 60% over. Maybe 75-90% over.
(As much as I don't like you doing math in labor, this is just to give you a general idea.)
The more dilated and effaced you are, the faster it can go. Therefore, don't worry if it took long to get to 4,5,6cm, it doesn't mean you have another equal marathon to finish.
By the time you get to 7 or more, it's just about the end. If you get checked at 7-8, the next check they may tell you to push and you may never hear about 9 because the cervix can melt away so quickly at that stage.
**Good labor visualization: Think; over ripe mango, soft warm butter...
Since I don't do internal exams, at home I'll be using external observation to try and deduce where you are in your labor. It's not an exact science. On the outside, the difference between 4cm thru 6cm can be very subtle and tricky to call.
4-6cm is also a big shifting time. Mom can still talk, but things are getting pretty intense. Often at this stage mom is feeling confidant she can handle it, but if she hears she is "only" 4, 5 or 6, she may feel discouraged as to whether she could handle it getting more intense. At this point, we are probably giving lots of touch and massage with every contraction. If she gets checked and the midwife/doctor announces a number 4-6, moms may say,"If this is 5, I don't know how I'm gonna handle this getting twice as bad!!!" It can be a "Oh crap!" moment.
But have no fear, nature has a way. That moment will pass, and your labor will intensify and you will still be there, doing it. It's a good time to go deeper into surrendering. Up to that point the intensity may have been where you could avoid/tough it/fight it/avoid it some more. But what is needed for your next level is to surrender. Trust that nature will give you the tools you need every step of the way. Trust your body. Don't fight it. Release your shoulders down. Release your pelvis. Let your whole belly and bottom hammock. Relax your face. Say ok to your next rush. Then say yes to the next one. Experience it, just be in it, be your birth.
7-10 cm is known as transition. It's the most physically and emotionally intense. It's when women most need support. If she doesnt want pain meds, she will need the most positive encouragement and faith in her abilities. If she has chosen to deliver without pain meds, no one should offer her them at this point. Nor should you feel sorry for her, on an epidural or not, this still applies. You need to embody faith in her, and support her. It can be a time of doubt, vulnerability, all consuming intensity. It is when a woman who may have been in the labor trance up to now, wakes up. The shift may surprise her partner. She may get irritable at this point. She may also be completely blissed out and enjoy the new found rush of energy. This time of intensity demands the attention of everyone in the room. And well it should! A miracle is about to happen. This rush of energy nature provides is so that mom can both push baby out, and immediately activate the protective mom brain. When you are fully dilated, it is amazing to reach down and feel your baby's head inside yourself. It also helps give a tired mom tactile proof that the end is literally in sight.
We all have seen pictures of babies' heads crowning (what did you say the first time you saw that??) and often believe that is the cause if the labor pain they've heard so much about. Actually, it is the contractions, the dilation of the cervix, and the pressure on the back during labor, that is usually the most physically challenging part. By the time it comes to pushing, "pain" is often not the fitting word for it. More, pressure, tightness, bigness. It can feel like serious constipation pushing. You may feel a burning sensation during crowing, or not. Not everyone feels it. The burning sensation can be decreased with water birth. When pushing, many women feel very powerful, and well they should.