Stages of Labor


No two birthing experiences can feel the same. However, it is good to be aware of what to expect during the three stages of labor.

Last Updated: 22 October 2020

Stages of Labor
Stages of Labor

You may experience the common symptoms of labor from a few weeks before the onset of labor. It is also not rare that labor contractions may start right away without giving out apparent signs of labor. In either case, when labor begins, here are the three phases of labor one can expect to unfold: 

First stage of labor

In the first stage, labor contractions begin and continue to get stronger. You are by most chance not required to drive to your hospital as soon as contractions begin. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to get back home and come later when the contractions are timed 3-5 minutes apart. With increasing contractions, your cervix begins to thin-out, also called as effacement. Your cervix starts to dilate from 0 centimeters to 10 centimeters which happens in three stages:

Early phase: In the early phase of labor, your contractions are timed 20 minutes apart and last for 30-60 seconds. This phase can last for around 6 hours or more for your first delivery and lesser for subsequent deliveries. Your cervix will dilate up to 3 or 4 centimeters.

How to cope up in the early phase?

The early stage of labor is relatively easier because the contractions are just beginning and are not too painful. Here’s what you can do:

·         It is the best stage of labor to relax. Try breathing exercises, listening to music or an activity which you know will keep you calm.

·         Keep moving and walking now, as movements can get difficult in the other stages of labor.

·         Your drive to the hospital is almost near. Pack and prepare all that is left before your contractions get stronger.

  • Keep a check for water breaking. If it happens, it needs to be reported to your OB immediately. 


Active phase: Your contractions get increasingly stronger in the active phase. The contractions occur 3-5 minutes apart lasting for 45-60 seconds. The active phase lasts for 3 hours or more and cervix will dilate up to 7 centimeters.

How to cope up in the active phase?

Your contractions are increasingly getting stronger and it is normal to near your tension threshold. Here’s how you can help:

·         Have your birthing partner by your side all the time. Talk to him/her about your emotions or anxiety. Ask for help and support.

·         Continue to practice your breathing technique and activities you have learnt in the childbirth classes.

Transition phase: You might be in the hospital already by this time. Your contractions are intense in the transition phase, timed less than 2 minutes apart and lasting for 60-90 seconds. Transition phase can be as short as 10 minutes and sometimes longer for about 2 hours.

How to cope up in the transition phase?

Labor contractions are intense now and this phase of labor can be difficult and painful. Keep reassuring yourself mentally that you can endure this phase and keep gaining support from your birthing partner. But you must be able to access when to ask for pain relief if it gets extremely unbearable.

Second stage of labor

You begin to push your baby down in the birth canal. Contractions continue to occur though can be 3-5 minutes apart now. It usually lasts for 1-2 hours. Depending upon how wide your vaginal opening is giving space, you may have to push more or undergo episiotomy or switch to C-section if the baby is monitored to be distressed. At the end of this phase, however, your baby is out!

How to cope up in the second stage?

·         Figure out your most comfortable position which allows you to push rightly.

·         Listen carefully to your OB’s instructions. Push when you are asked to push and take a break when you are asked to stop.

·         Pay all your attention on your vaginal opening. Feel the expansion and relaxation of the muscles down there and you will know exactly what to do.

Third stage of labor

Labor doesn’t end with the delivery of your baby! The placenta which nourished your baby is still inside and has to be expelled out. Contractions begin soon after childbirth and placenta begins to separate from the uterine wall. To your surprise, you will have to push again to get the placenta out though the third stage of labor usually lasts no longer than 20 minutes.

How to cope up in the third stage?


The last of the three stages of labor is the shortest you will have to endure, after which you are going to be with your baby for as long as you can keep awake. Ask your OB if you can breastfeed your baby


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