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Stages of Labor
What to Expect During Labor and Delivery

There are typically four stages of labor. Knowing what to expect will help you feel confident and stay calm, which will help your labor to progress more rapidly and smoothly.

It is good to have an idea of what changes are happening in your body and how to recognize them, to keep your peace of mind.

Couple during labor

Firstly, you should know the Signs of Labor

Once you are in labor, you will want to identify the different stages of labor and delivery described below.

Remember that these descriptions of the stages of labor are generalizations and that you may experience some variation of 'normal'. No two labors are the same.

If you will be giving birth in a hospital or birthing center, it is advisable not to go in and be admitted until your contractions are at least 5 minutes apart or your water has broken.

I. The First Stage of Labour refers to the onset of contractions until full dilation of the cervix.

Typically this stage is divided into three phases.

  1. phase one - early labor, cervix dilates from 1-3cm, mild contractions with fairly long rests in between
  2. phase two - active / established labor, cervix dilates from 4-8cm, contractions longer and stronger (45 seconds to 1 minute)
  3. phase three - transition, cervix dilates from 8cm to 10cm, contractions close together and strong (1 min to 1 1/2 minutes)

It is during this stage that you will need encouragement and support from your partner and/or doula. Use a variety of natural comfort and pain relief methods, as well as various positions for labor to facilitate the dilation of the cervix.

Giving Birth Quote

Just as a woman's heart knows how and when to pump, her lungs to inhale, and her hand to pull back from fire, so she knows when and how to give birth.

Virginia Di Orio

II. The Second Stage of Labor refers to the pushing and birth of the baby.

At this stage it is important to relax and rest whenever breaks in your contractions allow. There is no need to try to push or to push when you are told. Your body will have an uncontrollable urge to push and will automatically expel your baby.

Unnecessary pushing may tire you out or cause you to tear. Try to relax and 'breathe' your baby out!

Click here for Tips for Pushing to Avoid Episiotomy and Tearing - a detailed description of how to work effectively with the natural processes happening in your body during birth, during this stage.

III. The Third Stage of Labor refers to the birth of the placenta.

Once again, ideally, nature should be allowed time to do her work. If your baby is placed skin-to-skin on your bare chest immediately after birth, this will trigger an automatic release of oxytocin, a hormone which among other things, will cause the placenta to detach from the uterus.

The length of time this may take could be between 5 to 45 minutes, depending on the type of labor and birth experience you have had up till this point. The less interventions, the better. You will experience another contraction which will expel the placenta - painlessly.

IV. The Fourth Stage of Labor refers to the first hours after birth.

The first hour is often called the 'Golden Hour', as in this hour you and your baby will enjoy your first encounter with each other. Physiologically, this first meeting will be stimulating many significant changes in both your baby and your own body, which will promote bonding, breast-feeding and other desired responses.

It is crucial that you and your baby are not separated during this hour. If you are still in theatre after a cesarean, then your partner can hold your baby skin-to-skin on his chest until you are in a position to do so.

For more information on this Golden Hour, read the section on Newborn Baby Care.

More Pages Related to Stages of Labor

Your Pelvis is Designed for Birth

Benefits of a Birth Ball in Labor

The Benefits of Doula Support in Labor

Natural Pain Relief for Labor


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