Stages of labor and birth: Baby, it's time!
Labor is a natural process. Here's what to expect during the three stages of labor and birth — and what you can do to promote comfort.
Labor is a natural process. Here's what to expect during the three stages of labor and birth — and what you can do to promote comfort.By Mayo Clinic Staff
Labor is a unique experience. Sometimes it's over in a matter of hours. In other cases, labor tests a mother's physical and emotional stamina.
You won't know how labor and childbirth will unfold until it happens. However, you can prepare by understanding the typical sequence of events.
Stage 1: Early labor and active labor
Cervical effacement and dilation
Cervical effacement and dilation
Cervical effacement and dilation
Cervical effacement and dilation
During the first stage of labor, the cervix opens (dilates) and thins out (effaces) to allow the baby to move into the birth canal. In figures A and B, the cervix is tightly closed. In figure C, the cervix is 60% effaced and 1 to 2 cm dilated. In figure D, the cervix is 90% effaced and 4 to 5 cm dilated. The cervix must be 100% effaced and 10 cm dilated before a vaginal delivery.
The first stage of labor and birth occurs when you begin to feel persistent contractions. These contractions become stronger, more regular and more frequent over time. They cause the cervix to open (dilate) and soften as well as shorten and thin (efface) to allow your baby to move into the birth canal.
The first stage is the longest of the three stages. It's actually divided into two phases — early labor and active labor.
During early labor, your cervix dilates and effaces. You'll likely feel mild, irregular contractions.
As your cervix begins to open, you might notice a clear pink or slightly bloody discharge from your vagina. This is likely the mucus plug that blocks the cervical opening during pregnancy.
How long it lasts: Early labor is unpredictable. For first-time moms, the average length varies from hours to days. It's often shorter for subsequent deliveries.
What you can do: For many women, early labor isn't particularly uncomfortable, but contractions may be more intense for some. Try to stay relaxed.
To promote comfort during early labor:
- Go for a walk
- Take a shower or bath
- Listen to relaxing music
- Try breathing or relaxation techniques taught in childbirth class
- Change positions
If you're having an uncomplicated pregnancy, you may spend most of your early labor at home until your contractions start to increase in frequency and intensity. Your health care provider will instruct you on when to leave for the hospital or birthing center. If your water breaks or you experience significant vaginal bleeding, call your health care provider right away.
During active labor, your cervix will dilate from 6 centimeters (cm) to 10 cm. Your contractions will become stronger, closer together and regular. Your legs might cramp, and you might feel nauseated. You might feel your water break — if it hasn't already — and experience increasing pressure in your back. If you haven't headed to your labor and delivery facility yet, now's the time.
Don't be surprised if your initial excitement wanes as labor progresses and your discomfort intensifies. Ask for pain medication or anesthesia if you want it. Your health care team will partner with you to make the best choice for you and your baby. Remember, you're the only one who can judge your need for pain relief.
How long it lasts: Active labor often lasts 4 to 8 hours or more. On average, your cervix will dilate at approximately 1 cm an hour.
What you can do: Look to your labor partner and health care team for encouragement and support. Try breathing and relaxation techniques to relieve your discomfort. Use what you learned in childbirth class or ask your health care team for suggestions.
Unless you need to be in a specific position to allow for close monitoring of you and your baby, consider these ways to promote comfort during active labor:
- Change positions
- Roll on a large rubber ball (birthing ball)
- Take a warm shower or bath
- Take a walk, stopping to breathe through contractions
- Have a gentle massage between contractions
If you need to have a Cesarean delivery (C-section), having food in your stomach can lead to complications. If your health care provider thinks you might need a C-section, he or she might recommend small amounts of clear liquids, such as water, ice chips, popsicles and juice, instead of solid foods.
The last part of active labor — often referred to as transition — can be particularly intense and painful. Contractions will come close together and can last 60 to 90 seconds. You'll experience pressure in your lower back and rectum. Tell your health care provider if you feel the urge to push.
If you want to push but you're not fully dilated, your health care provider will ask you to hold back. Pushing too soon could make you tired and cause your cervix to swell, which might delay delivery. Pant or blow your way through the contractions. Transition typically lasts 15 to 60 minutes.
Stage 2: The birth of your baby
It's time! You'll deliver your baby during the second stage of labor.
How long it lasts: It can take from a few minutes to a few hours or more to push your baby into the world. It might take longer for first-time moms and women who've had an epidural.
What you can do: Push! Your health care provider will ask you to bear down during each contraction or tell you when to push. Or you might be asked to push when you feel the urge to do so.
When it's time to push, you may experiment with different positions until you find one that feels best. You can push while squatting, sitting, kneeling — even on your hands and knees.
At some point, you might be asked to push more gently — or not at all. Slowing down gives your vaginal tissues time to stretch rather than tear. To stay motivated, you might ask if you could feel the baby's head between your legs or see it in a mirror.
After your baby's head is delivered, the rest of the baby's body will follow shortly. The baby's airway will be cleared if necessary. If you've had an uncomplicated delivery, your health care provider may wait a few seconds to a few minutes before the umbilical cord is cut. Delaying clamping and cutting the umbilical cord after delivery increases the flow of nutrient-rich blood from the cord and the placenta to the baby. This increases the baby's iron stores and reduces the risk of anemia, promoting healthy development and growth.
Stage 3: Delivery of the placenta
After your baby is born, you'll likely feel a great sense of relief. You might hold the baby in your arms or on your abdomen. Cherish the moment. But a lot is still happening. During the third stage of labor, you will deliver the placenta.
How long it lasts: The placenta is typically delivered in 30 minutes, but the process can last as long as an hour.
What you can do: Relax! By now your focus has likely shifted to your baby. You might be oblivious to what's going on around you. If you'd like, try breastfeeding your baby.
You'll continue to have mild, less painful contractions that are close together. The contractions help move the placenta into the birth canal. You'll be asked to push gently one more time to deliver the placenta. You might be given medication before or after the placenta is delivered to encourage uterine contractions and minimize bleeding.
Your health care provider will examine the placenta to make sure it's intact. Any remaining fragments must be removed from the uterus to prevent bleeding and infection. If you're interested, ask to see the placenta.
After you deliver the placenta, your uterus will continue to contract to help it return to its normal size.
A member of your health care team may massage your abdomen. This may help the uterus contract to decrease bleeding.
Your health care provider will also determine whether you need repair of any tears of your vaginal region. If you don't have anesthesia, you'll receive an injection of local anesthetic in the area to be stitched.
Savor this special time with your baby. Your preparation, pain and effort have paid off. Revel in the miracle of birth.
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Jan. 13, 2022
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See more In-depth
- Can vaginal tears during childbirth be prevented?
- High-risk pregnancy
- Home birth
- Inducing labor
- Labor pain medications
- Repeat C-sections
- Signs of labor
- Vaginal tears in childbirth
- Labor positions
- Tailbone pain
- Considering VBAC
- The epidural block
- Water breaking
Labour has three stages:
The first stage is when the neck of the womb (cervix) opens to 10cm dilated. The second stage is when the baby moves down through the vagina and is born. The third stage is when the placenta (afterbirth) is delivered.
- First stage: Dilation of the cervix (mouth of the uterus)
- Second stage: Delivery of the baby.
- Third stage: Afterbirth where you push out the placenta.
- Fourth stage: Recovery.
Stage 2: The birth of your baby
You'll deliver your baby during the second stage of labor. How long it lasts: It can take from a few minutes to a few hours or more to push your baby into the world. It might take longer for first-time moms and women who've had an epidural. What you can do: Push!
There are five essential factors that affect the process of labor and delivery. They are easily remembered as the five Ps (passenger, passage, powers, placenta, and psychology).How many stages are in labor? ›
Labor is divided into three stages: Labor. Pushing and birth. Delivery of the placenta.How long does it take to dilate from 1 to 10? ›
When your baby is ready to begin the journey through the birth canal, your cervix dilates from fully closed to 10 centimeters. This process can take hours, days, or even weeks. But once you hit active labor – about 6 cm dilated – it's usually just a matter of hours before you reach full dilation.What is the first stage of labor and delivery called? ›
Phase 1: Early labor. Contractions start. You'll start getting contractions at relatively regular intervals. Note that early labor contractions are sometimes hard to distinguish from irregular Braxton Hicks contractions, also called false labor.What are the 3 phases of the first stage of labor called? ›
Early Labor: The onset of labor until the cervix is dilated to 3-6 centimeters. Active Labor Phase: Continues from 3 cm until the cervix is dilated to 7 centimeters. Transition Phase – Continues from 7 cm until the cervix is fully dilated to 10 centimeters.How long is Stage 4 labor? ›
The fourth stage of labor is the first hour or two after you deliver. During this time, your provider may have to repair an incision (episiotomy) or tears (lacerations) made during the delivery.What happens to the baby during labor? ›
How Does Baby Move During Labor? As your labor progresses, your infant will be doing the best he can to push the process along. To start the dilation of the cervix, your baby's head presses into the birth canal. Infants usually twist and turn during labor to find the easiest way to squeeze through.
Baby will be: Feeling a tight squeeze and getting ready to breathe. "The pressure on your baby's body as he squeezes through the narrow birth canal is actually helpful in preparing him to live outside the uterus," says Deans.What is the 5 1 1 rule of labor? ›
5-1-1- Rule: At term (actually after 36 weeks). When your contractions are 5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute each for an hour consistently and increasing in strength/intensity.What are the six movements of delivery? ›
The seven cardinal movements of labor are: engagement, descent, flexion, internal rotation, extension, external rotation and expulsion.What are the 4 Ps in OB? ›
These components are grouped into 4Ps: power, which refers to uterine contractions and maternal pushing efforts; passage, which refers to the maternal pelvis that the baby passes through during labor; passenger, which refers to the fetus and placenta; and psyche, which refers to the client's psychological status during ...How can I speed up dilation? ›
Getting up and moving around may help speed dilation by increasing blood flow. Walking around the room, doing simple movements in bed or chair, or even changing positions may encourage dilation. This is because the weight of the baby applies pressure to the cervix.Can you feel dilation? ›
Early dilation often feels like menstrual cramps as the cervical changes cause pain and cramping noticed in the lower part of the uterus. It is the same sensation and location as menstrual cramps. Active labor tends to be felt in a larger area but can be a similar sensation as cramping (with more intensity of course).How long can it take to go from 1cm to 10cm dilated? ›
Your cervix needs to open about 10cm for your baby to pass through it. This is what's called being fully dilated. In a 1st labour, the time from the start of established labour to being fully dilated is usually 8 to 12 hours. It's often quicker (around 5 hours), in a 2nd or 3rd pregnancy.What is stage 2 labor and delivery? ›
Stage 2. At this stage, the cervix reaches full dilation, meaning that it is as open as it needs to be for delivery (10 centimeters). The woman begins to push (or is sometimes told to "bear down") to help the baby move through the birth canal.What is stage 2 labor? ›
The second stage of labor begins when the cervix is completely opened and ends with the delivery of the baby. The second stage is often referred to as the "pushing" stage. During the second stage, the woman becomes actively involved by pushing the baby through the birth canal to the outside world.What is the second stage of labor called? ›
Second stage of labor: The part of labor from the full dilatation of the cervix until the baby is completely out of the birth canal. The second stage of labor is also called the stage of expulsion.
The three stages of labor are active labor, birth of the baby, and delivery of the placenta. Active labor lasts an average of 8 hours and is when the baby begins to descend. The cervix dilates from 4 to 10 centimeters through contractions.What happens during the final stage of labor and delivery quizlet? ›
After the birth of your baby, your uterus continues to contract to push out the placenta (afterbirth). The placenta usually delivers about 5 to 15 minutes after the baby arrives. Your baby is born, the placenta has delivered, and you and your partner will probably feel joy, relief, and fatigue.Why is Stage 3 labor important? ›
The third stage of labor refers to the period following the completed delivery of the newborn until the completed delivery of the placenta. The length of the third stage and its complications are affected by the uterine contractility and the duration of placental separation.What happens in the 3 stage of labor? ›
The third stage of labor commences with the completed delivery of the fetus and ends with the completed delivery of the placenta and its attached membranes. The clinician immediately recognizes that from a practical perspective, the risk of complications continues for some period after delivery of the placenta.Are there 3 or 4 stages of labor? ›
Labor is a process that subdivides into three stages. The first stage starts when labor begins and ends with full cervical dilation and effacement. The second stage commences with complete cervical dilation and ends with the delivery of the fetus.What is the most painful stage of labor? ›
Second Stage or Active Labor
The second stage is the most painful stage of labor. The baby passes through the cervix, through the pelvis and birth canal, and out through the vaginal opening. On average, it takes one to three hours from the time that the cervix becomes fully dilated to the birth of the baby.
usually last for about 30 seconds. can be uncomfortable, but usually aren't painful. come and go at irregular times. usually occur no more than once or twice an hour (until late in the pregnancy), a few times a day.How long is too long for early labor? ›
If your baby is not born after approximately 20 hours of regular contractions, you are likely to be in prolonged labor. Some health experts may say it occurs after 18 to 24 hours. If you are carrying twins or more, prolonged labor is labor that lasts more than 16 hours.What are the 7 P's of labor? ›
Basically labor length is influenced by the Six P's: passage, passenger, power, position, psyche or perception and parity. The passage is defined as the bony boundaries of the pelvis. The shape of the pelvis determines how easily the baby can pass through.How many cm dilated do you have to be to break your water? ›
If your water (aka “amniotic sac,” “bag of waters” or “membranes”) hasn't broken on its own when you arrive at the hospital, and you're five or more centimeters dilated, your OB might recommend bursting the bag by hand—especially if your cervix seems to be making slow (or no) progress.
A labor stall is defined by all three measurements of labor progress (dilation, effacement, and station) no longer changing. If there is a stall, consider the 3Ps: passage, passenger, and power.What actually hurts during labor? ›
Pain during labor is caused by contractions of the muscles of the uterus and by pressure on the cervix. This pain can be felt as strong cramping in the abdomen, groin, and back, as well as an achy feeling. Some women experience pain in their sides or thighs as well.How does giving birth feel like? ›
Some people describe the feeling as being like intense period cramps, others say it feels like a tightening or pounding feeling in your uterus or across your belly, others describe the feeling as being like very intense muscle cramps, while still other people describe contractions as being like the sort of wrenching ...How do you push a baby out without tearing? ›
Deliver in an upright, nonflat position.
There are a number of delivery positions that might reduce the risk of a vaginal tear during childbirth. Rather than lying down flat during delivery, deliver in an upright position. Your health care provider will help you find a comfortable and safe delivery position.