Stages of Labor

Knowing what to expect before you go into labor can really help settle unnecessary fears associated with vaginal birth. It will also leave you feeling more in control and aware of what’s happening around you when you’re in labor. The following article will shed light on what happens during each of the three stages of labor and how you can ease your discomfort during initial stages.

1st Stage: Early Labor, Active Labor & Transition Phase

The longest of the three labor stages, the first stage is divided into three parts: early labor, active labor, and the transition phase.

  •   Early Labor:

During this phase you will feel mild contractions as the cervix begins to dilate. Each contraction might last from 30-60 seconds and will occur every 5-20 minutes on average. It’s common for expectant mothers to experience a stringy, blood-tinged vaginal discharge called “bloody show” at this stage. Early labor can last from a few hours to several days, particularly in the case of new moms. During this part of labor, you will be free to move around and partake in simple daily activities. To reduce discomfort, try the following:

- Bathe or shower
- Get a gentle massage 
- Perform breathing relaxation exercises
- Change your position to get more comfortable
- Place ice packs or a hot water bottle on your lower back


  •   Active Labor:

Active labor begins when your cervix starts to gradually dilate to 8cm, and contractions tend to recur every 4-5 minutes and last up to 60 seconds. It’s not unusual to feel a growing pressure in your back, and if the contraction pain becomes too intense, this is the right time to ask for pain medication. Active labor can continue for 8 hours (or longer) for first-time moms. It is important to avoid pushing until your medical team or doctor gives you the green light, as pushing before you’re sufficiently dilated can cause a tear in your cervix. To ease discomfort, try the following:

- Go for a short walk, making sure to stop and breathe deeply during contractions
- Take a warm shower or bath
- Get a gentle massage between contractions
- Use a rocking chair
- Change your position


  • Transition Phase: 

The last part of the first stage of labor, the transition phase can last from a few minutes to 2 hours. Though the shortest part, it tends to be one of the hardest and most intense parts of labor, as this is when contractions come in close succession around every 2-3 minutes and last up to 1 ½ minutes each time. During this phase your cervix will dilate from 8-10cm and your baby will begin to enter the birth canal. It is not uncommon for women to start shivering and feel nauseous during this time, and there will be a considerable amount of bloody discharge. Mothers need a lot of support and encouragement from their birth partners around this time. To ease discomfort, try the following:

- Place a cold damp cloth against your forehead and cheeks
- Place a cold pack or a warm compress on your back to ease back pain
- Change your position (try getting on all fours if you feel intense pressure in your lower back)


2nd Stage: Actual Birth

This is when you’ll be pushing to deliver your baby. The actual delivery can take anywhere from 2 minutes to several hours, but tends to last longer for first-time moms that have taken an epidural. You will need to push in time with contractions to speed along the delivery of your baby. The best thing to do is to push when you get the urge to do so, so listen carefully to your body and follow the queues it gives you. There are several birth positions that you can opt for during this stage, such as squatting or getting on your hands and knees. Make sure to choose a birth position that works best for you. Sometimes, doctors might ask mothers to stop pushing to give the vaginal tissues enough time to stretch in order to stop them from tearing, so you might need to try to hold back on the urge to push if this happens. Once your baby’s head is out and their airway is clear, your doctor will make sure that the umbilical cord is not tangled around your baby and then will proceed to deliver the rest of the body.

3rd Stage: Placenta Delivery 

As soon as your baby is born, and as long as there aren’t any complications, you will feel instantaneous physical relief. Your doctor will still need to deliver the placenta and check that you aren’t bleeding excessively, but in general you will be able to relax during this stage and even hold and breastfeed your newborn baby. The delivery of the placenta takes around 5-10 minutes, though in some cases it can last up to 30 minutes. You will continue to experience mild contractions until the placenta is expelled, and might be asked to push one last time in order to deliver it. Once the placenta is out, it will be checked to ensure that it is in one piece; if there are remaining fragments of the placenta in the uterus, they must be removed to prevent infection. If all is well, your doctor will examine you to check whether you need stitches; if you do, you will receive a local anesthetic injection in the area that will be stitched as well as medication that will encourage uterine contractions to reduce bleeding.