Labor: Stage-By-Stage Guide To Childbirth

All things perfectly planned – nursery, baby car seat, stroller, hospital bag, birthing classes – now all that you have to do is just WAIT! If this is your first baby, the excitement, and anxiety of waiting for the D day go beyond words. Once you are 37 weeks pregnant, the baby will be born anytime.

In some cases, pregnancy can go up to 42 weeks. Not knowing when will your labor begin would make you more anxious. There are also some women who think that they are in labor and head to the hospital. Know how to differentiate between the false contractions (Braxton Hicks) and the real ones.


Ideally, in true labor, the contractions will start slowly and then become more intense. Minor twinges could go unnoticed sometimes and the contractions would suddenly build up. Labor in subsequent pregnancies is usually faster.

Everything planned would not always go exactly the same way. Last minute changes can happen. It is good to have a plan in mind on how your birth should go but it is always better to be flexible. Labor is different for every pregnant woman. Keeping that in mind, check out what would actually happen during labor.


3 Stages Of Labor

1. Contractions

Early Labor

Your cervix begins to thin, soften, and move forward to open and the baby settles into the pelvis comfortably. This is when the contractions begin and you may notice an achy sensation or pressure in your lower abdomen or back. In this phase, the contractions are irregular and mild.

The contractions last between 30 to 60 seconds and 20 minutes apart. Your cervix continues to dilate and open to 3 or 4 cm. Labor will be gradual and this phase would take quite a while. It can last from six to eight hours depending on whether it is your first pregnancy or subsequent pregnancies.


Try to remain calm, rest, walk and practice breathing. Your doctor would have given proper instructions on when to call the hospital. Other symptoms like rupture of membranes, any discharge, or losing mucus plug are also signs of the beginning of labor. Call your caregiver immediately.

Active Labor

By this phase, you are already in your hospital bed. Your contractions will be long, intense, and strong. From 30 to 60 seconds in the early phase, it moves on to last for 45 to 60 seconds, and three to five minutes apart. The cervix effaces and dilates more. It will dilate to 8 cm. This stage can last from three to six hours for a first-time mom and for subsequent labors it might last from one to three hours. Pitocin will make labor progress faster. It is a drug which induces contractions. This phase might go quickly if you have taken Pitocin.


The pace of your labor picks up fast and there will be real momentum. Follow your body rhythm and work on it. Never get tensed or fight against the contractions. You will need more strength and support at this phase. Try to breathe, focus, and wait for the next contraction.

As your contractions increase, change your positions to stay comfortable. You will feel discomfort in the hips, back, feet, and leg when the contractions increase. Epidural is what you would want at this stage. The movements like walking would encourage the cervix to open and help the baby get into position. Constant monitoring of fetal heartbeat will be done by your care provider.


Transition Phase

This stage is usually short which would last from ten minutes to two hours. Contractions get more intense and powerful which could last between 60 to 90 seconds, and one to two minutes apart. You might feel restless, shaky, and nauseous during this phase. Rectal pressure, chills, hot flashes, and even vomiting is normal. It would be too late to even ask for a pain reliever. So just try to breathe and stay calm although it is impossible at this stage. But being calm and relaxed would help you get through labor faster.

2. Delivery Of The Baby

Your little one inside makes his way through the pelvis and into the birth canal. Cervix dilates and your body shifts to pushing. This phase might last from 15 minutes to many hours. Some lucky moms-to-be push just a few times and others might take a long time. The urge to push the baby out gets strong as your baby descends.


Due to long hours of labor, if your baby is not getting into the birth canal, or your doctor feels that the baby is in distress, at this point, the natural labor could turn into an emergency C-section or a delivery using forceps.

However, if it is a vaginal birth, you would feel a stinging, stretching, and burning sensation just before your baby’s head emerges. This is a sure sign that your labor will end anytime soon. After your baby’s head is out, the rest of the body slips out easily.


3. Placenta Delivery

Right when you think you have done it, comes this stage of placenta delivery. Although this is not very difficult and intense like the delivery of baby, sometimes the contractions could be unexpectedly painful. It would last from one to twenty minutes. Be patient and wait till you deliver the placenta. The last thing you want is to be stressed or scared.

Skin-to-skin touch, caress, and cuddle are the only things required for the baby once after birth. It is also the good time to start the first breastfeeding which would tighten the uterus and decrease the bleeding.

Excitement and relief finally! The cord is cut and your doctor will make sure you are comfortable. Cold compresses are such a relief when applied to the perineum which can reduce any discomfort or swelling. After-pains, shivering, jitters, or shakes are also common right after birth.