Stages of Labor 

The Stages of Labor

What to expect during childbirth



The Stages of Labor

What to expect during childbirth.

Over the last few weeks of pregnancy, the cervix has been gradually ripening and softening. Uterine contractions are occurring during this time. Some may be strong, some barely noticeable, but each is preparing your body for the actual onset of labor.

Labor is divided into three distinct stages. In the first stage one labor, the cervix dilates (opens) and effaces (thins), allowing the descent of the baby toward birth. During second stage of labor, the baby passes through the birth canal and is born. The third stage of labor involves the delivery of the placenta. These stages are not equal in time or intensity and every birth will follow its own pattern.

- Easy to use Contractions Timer with contractions log print out.


The First Stage of Labor

Most likely what will happen when you go into labor is that you will begin to feel contractions. With some women the water breaks, and then they begin to have contractions. In the first stage of labor, the cervix will dilate from closed, which is its normal state, to fully open at 10 cm in diameter.

In mothers having their first child, this stage usually lasts 12 to 16 hours.
For women having second or subsequent children, the first stage lasts around 6 to 7 hours.

Stage one can be divided into three phases:
Early labor (dilation up to 4 cm), active labor (4 cm to 8 cm) and transition (8 cm to 10 cm).

The early phase:
During this early phase of labor, you may feel excited and nervous now that the moment that you have been waiting for has finally come. This phase typically lasts around half of the time most women are in labor, so it gives you the chance to telephone people, get your partner back from the golf course or supermarket, and hunt down the crossword you didn't finish this morning.

labor pillow kneesYou may want to rest, walk, shower, or eat lightly. It is very important to keep hydrated by drinking lots of water and juice. You may experience leaking of amniotic fluid or 'show', the expulsion of the plug which may be stained with blood that has kept the cervix sealed.

Contractions in early labor become regular in their occurrence, from 10 to 20 minutes apart and lasting 30 to 60 seconds. Contractions are measured from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next.
early phase labor
  • The cervix dilates between 0 and 4 cm.
  • Contractions start farther apart, 10 to 20 minutes apart.
  • Contractions are short only lasting 30 to 60 seconds long.
  • Contractions radiate from back to front.
  • She will be excited, talkative, having spurts of energy.
  • Mother usually stays at home or somewhere she feels comfortable.
  • The bag of water or amniotic sac is usually intact.
  • Primary effacing (or thinning out) phase.
  • Early labor is on average half of labor time, 2 to 20 hours.

The active phase:
Active labor is the next phase, and you will notice a change when you hit this stage. contractions become regular and form a pattern of increasing frequency. You will do best if you are able to relax and concentrate on what your body is doing. Stay active, just as it is called. Relax during your contractions, with simple, regular breathing patterns. They will not stop with change of movement or position and they become progressively stronger.

birth ball laborpillows chair knees labor
Keep moving and changing positions, using gravity positive postures. Discomfort can often be helped by body positions that allow gravity to speed dilation, such as walking, squatting, kneeling forward on a chair or birth ball, or lying on your side. This will help the baby move down in the pelvis faster and less painfully.

  • Dilation 4 to about 8 cm is completed.
  • Contractions closer together 3 to 5 minutes apart.
  • Contractions are lasting longer 60 to 90 seconds.
  • Mom becomes more serious, quiet, apprehensive.
  • Mother should proceed to her birthing facility once this stage has been established.
  • A bloody show may occur with cervical dilation or after a vaginal exam.
  • (Remember a bloody show is normal. A large amount of bleeding is not).

The transition phase:
Though labor may be difficult at this point, you are getting close to the birth of your baby as you enter that final phase of stage one, known as transition. Transition, or the turning point right before birth is the hardest and most intense. It is also the shortest of the 3 stages, lasting from 10 to 45 minutes.

You will have a contraction every two minutes or so and each one will last a minute or more. You may at this point decide to yell and holler. The tried and true method is to squeeze your partner's hand until he is yelling too, or to tell him what a bastard he is for getting you in this condition.

This is your body's last effort to open the cervix fully to allow for birth. Your hormones are working with your baby's at full speed to prepare for delivery. Once you have dilated to 10 cm, you will begin taking an active participating role in what your body is doing.
transition phase labor
  • Dilation 7 to 10 cm is completed.
  • Contractions are close together 1 to 3 minutes.
  • Contraction are lasting 90 to 120 seconds, with possible multiple peaks.
  • Mother is tired and irritable.
  • Mother may cry and begin to lose control at this time.
  • She may panic or feel disoriented.
  • Feeling a lot of rectal pressure.
  • Nausea and vomiting may occur.
  • Uncontrollable trembling of the legs.
  • Hot or cold flushes.


The Second Stage of Labor - Birth

Second Stage LaborYou have finally arrived at the second stage of labor - the birth. Your body will feel the urge to push the baby out and you will bear down in order to bring your baby into the world. The baby's head will appear as the baby is 'crowning' and your medical attendants will guide you through the last few pushes to deliver your child.

There is no one correct position for pushing. There are several, each with advantages and disadvantages. It is highly recommended that you practice each one, through a couple of practice contractions, just to see for yourself whether you find them comfortable, or practical. Do not actually practice pushing, as this can put unnecessary strain on your cervix.

The second stage of labor usually takes a couple of hours for new moms; women who have already had children may shorten that time somewhat.


The Third Stage of Labor

Between 5 minutes to 1 hour after your baby is born, you will complete the third stage of labor by delivering the placenta and membranes that have nourished and contained your baby throughout your pregnancy. These contractions are milder and occur as you are marveling at your child and feeling the support of your loved ones and caregivers.

However these stages progress, your experience will be unique to you and your child and will be the beginning of a beautiful new stage in the life of your family.

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