Stages of Labor

Childbirth is one of the most miraculous phenomena in the world, and one that is at once incredibly beautiful and emotional. A shame then in a way that it’s also stressful, scary, painful and messy… However, better understanding the whole process and the stages of labor that you will be going through can greatly help you to put aside any reservations and better appreciate the miracle of life, and can help any concerned partners to be supportive and understanding of the process. Here we will discuss the stages of labor and what you should expect going through them. There are three main stages of labor, and within these stages are several other periods, all of which will be described below.

Stage 1

Early Labor

First of all you will go through early labor. The technical definition of this period is that the cervix is dilated to 0-3 cm and that contractions have begun between 5-20 minutes apart and lasting for 30-45 seconds. During this time the Mother will experience back ache and urges to ‘nest’. The nesting urge is a feeling reported by many women to ‘ready’ their home for the coming of a child by tidying and cleaning. While some of the contractions may be moderately intense, during the periods in between they should be able to talk and act normally. During this time women are encouraged to rest and conserve energy. Eat lightly and look for restful distractions such as reading or walking. During this time it is normally safe to remain at home.

Active Labor

Active labor is defined by a cervical dilation of 4-8 centimetres that are 3-5 minutes apart and lasting for about a minute each. These contractions will also be more intense and the Mother may also experience tremblings, vomiting or just nausea and discomfort between contractions. Now they may have difficulty making conversation and will not be able to engage in other activities due to the strength of the contractions. Women are encouraged to regularly visit the toilet and to hydrate themselves regularly. To try and alleviate some of the discomfort, it is recommended that you try shifting positions regularly, relaxing your muscles, using breathing exercises and vocal exercises, receiving massages and using hot or cold packs.


During this time the Mother will pass into the next stage of labor. Transition is defined as cervical dilation of 8-10 cm, contractions about two or three minutes apart that last one to one and a half minutes approx. The contractions will now be extremely intense and can be coupled by rectal pressure (caused if the baby’s head is low). During this time Mothers will likely have difficulty coping and certainly won’t be able to engage in other activities or focus. They will continue to experience tremblings and nausea/vomiting. The same coping methods are recommended here, and you can take comfort in the knowledge that you are nearing the end of the labor process.

Stage 2

Resting Phase

The resting phase of labor occurs between transition and the decent phase and could be considered as a quiet before the storm. At 10 cm of dilation some women find they have a period of around 10-20 minutes with no contraction and before the urge to bear down. During this time you Mothers are encouraged to rest and prepare and to consider their pushing options. This is a good time to empty the bladder and drink fluids.

The Descent Phase

This is the phase during which the baby begins to descent. Contractions during this time will be around 3-5 minutes apart lasting about a minute each, and during each contraction the baby’s head will descend further. Again position changes are encouraged, as is rest between contractions and drinking fluids.


Crowning is the point at which the baby’s head descends to the opening of the vagina and doesn’t recede during contractions. This is an extremely intense point during the pregnancy for the woman who will feel intense feelings of stretching and burning. A cool compress can sometimes be helpful, and women should push slowly during this point. Hospital staff will help to ease the baby’s head and this marks the end of the birth giving process.

Stage 3

The last stage of labour lasts for around 10-20 minutes after the birth of the baby and during this time the Mother will likely experience some cramping, as well as a continued urge to push (though far more mild) in order to deliver the placenta. During this time the Mother can focus on the successful birth and the new child and can enjoy breastfeeding.

Note: Many people believe waters breaking to be the main indication that labor has begun. In reality a Mother’s waters only break prior to labor around 13% of the time and in the majority of cases it will likely break during labor when the cervix is around 9 cm dilated. In other cases they can break during the night before labor begins.

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