Stages of Labor

Labor occurs in three stages. When regular contractions begin, the baby moves down into the pelvis as the cervix both effaces (thins) and dilates (opens). How labor progresses and how long it lasts are different for every woman. But each stage features some milestones that are true for every woman.

First Stage

The first stage begins with the onset of labor and ends when the cervix is fully opened. It is the longest stage of labor, usually lasting about 12 to 19 hours.
Tip: Many women spend the early part of this first stage at home. You might want to rest, watch TV, hang out with family, or even go for a walk.

While at home, time your contractions and keep your doctor up to date on your progress. Your doctor will tell you when to go to the hospital or birthing center. At the hospital, your doctor will monitor the progress of your labor by periodically checking your cervix, as well as the baby's position and station (location in the birth canal). Most babies' heads enter the pelvis facing to one side, and then rotate to face down. Sometimes, a baby will be facing up, towards the mother's abdomen. Intense back labor often goes along with this position. Your doctor might try to rotate the baby, or the baby might turn on its own. As you near the end of the first stage of labor, contractions become longer, stronger, and closer together. Many of the positioning and relaxation tips you learned in childbirth class can help now.

Tip:Try to find the most comfortable position during contractions and to let your muscles go limp between contractions.

Tip: Let your support person know how he or she can be helpful, such as by rubbing your lower back, giving you ice chips to suck, or putting a cold washcloth on your forehead.
The most difficult phase of this first stage is the transition. Contractions are very powerful, with very little time to relax in between, as the cervix stretches the last, few centimeters. Many women feel shaky or nauseated. The cervix is fully dilated when it reaches 10 centimeters.

Second Stage

The second stage involves pushing and delivery of your baby. It usually lasts 20 minutes to two hours. You will push hard during contractions, and rest between contractions.
Tip:Pushing is hard work, and a support person can really help keep you focused.

A woman can give birth in many positions, such as squatting, sitting, kneeling, or lying back.You might find pushing to be easier or more comfortable one way, and you should be allowed to choose the birth position that feels best to you.

Tip:Giving birth in an upright position, such as squatting, appears to have some benefits, including shortening this stage of labor and helping to keep the tissue near the birth canal intact. When the top of your baby's head fully appears (crowning), your doctor will tell you when to push and deliver your baby. Your doctor may make a small cut, called an episiotomy (uh-peez-ee-OT-oh-mee), to enlarge the vaginal opening. Most women in childbirth do not need episiotomy.
After your baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut. Make sure to tell your doctor if you or your partner would like to cut the umbilical cord.

Third Stage

The third stage involves delivery of the placenta (afterbirth). It is the shortest stage, lasting five to 30 minutes. Contractions will begin five to 30 minutes after birth, signaling that it's time to deliver the placenta. You might have chills or shakiness. Labor is over once the placenta is delivered. Your doctor will repair the episiotomy,now, you can rest and enjoy your newborn!

Return from Stages of Labor to Giving Birth

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