Stages of Labor- At a Glance

Stages of Labor at a Glance

Stage of Labor


First Stage (Early Phase)

First Stage (Late Phase)

What you may experience

Nesting Instinct, Braxton-Hicks, baby drops into pelvis, backache, heaviness in pelvis, frequent urination, loose bowels, menstrual-like cramps, restlessness, weight loss, vaginal discharge, bloody show.

Slow and steady contractions (may seem like no big deal), mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension, bloody show, leaking or rupture of membranes, complacent and in control feelings, ctx 5-30 minutes apart lasting 30-45 seconds, increasing in strength but manageable. Able to go about your usual business.

Desire to go to birth place. Contractions accelerate: faster, harder, longer, and demand your attention.

Membranes may break if they haven’t already.

More backache, whole body is involved in contractions and deep pelvic pressure. Retreat inward, touchy irritable, quiet during contractions, less aware of surroundings. Contractions 3-5 minutes apart lasting around 60 seconds. Intense and not able to be distracted from.

What you can do

REST! The big event is near! Finish packing and tying up loose ends. Eat carbs for energy. Practice relaxation.

Bath or shower, rest, walk once rested, embrace partner during contractions, eat light meals, drink a lot, empty bladder. Call Dr or Midwife.

Begin experimenting with pain easing positions: kneel, squat, hands and knees. Sit on toilet seat or use tub or shower to relax. Drink and snack.

What’s happening in your body

Cervix begins to efface and dilate, hormones prepare for birth (progesterone decreases and estrogen, oxytocin, and prostaglandins increase), and pelvic ligaments relax.

Cervix effaces nearly completely, cervix dilates halfway or more. Baby’s head descends lower into the pelvis.

Cervix completely effaced

Baby’s head descends lower, bulging and breaking the membranes.

Endorphins are released

How long it may last

A few hours to a few weeks

From a few hours to a couple days (average 8 hrs)

3-4 hours

How far along you may be

1-2 cm dilated and partially effaced

50-90% effaced and 2-5 cm’s dilated

100% effaced and 5-8 cm dilated






Stage of Labor


Second Stage

Third Stage

What you may experience

Shortest but most intense phase. Feelings of doubt “I can’t do this anymore.” Backache, bowel pressure, hot and cold flashes, nausea, vomiting, belching, aching thighs, un able to be pleased, hostile, unaware of surroundings, Need to yell or groan. Contractions 1-3 minutes apart lasting 60-90 seconds, intense, overwhelming, double peaks, relentless.

Irresistible urge to push. Brief lull in frequency and intensity of contractions. A sudden burst of energy. Rectal pressure and possible urge to poop. Stretching/burning sensations as baby’s head expands perineal tissues. Contractions less intense and further apart (3-5 minutes)

You may be so engrossed in baby that you are oblivious to the placenta delivery. Cramping contractions.

May notice a gush of blood as the placenta separates. Overwhelming need to hold your baby. Relief that birth is over.

What you can do

Change positions for comfort: squat, kneel, and sit leaning forward.

Recharge between contractions, sip juice, meditate, be quiet and undisturbed.

 Use visual imagery, focus on how short this part is, try a tub or shower. Imagine releasing and surrendering. Play music, relax pelvic floor

Short frequent pushes are more efficient than prolonged pushing. Take your time. Push when you have the urge, not coached, unless you have an epidural. Avoid “purple pushing”

Rest between pushes. Visualize opening and releasing. Resist pushing during crowning by panting or blowing.

Place baby skin to skin on abdomen.

Encourage baby to nurse, which will release oxytocin to contract the uterus, help expel the placenta and stop the bleeding.

Enjoy your baby while the dr or midwife stitches your perineum.

Be quiet, calm, dim lights, stay warm.

What’s happening in your body

Cervix dilates completely; baby’s head squeezes through cervix into birth canal, begins to stretch vaginal canal and put pressure on rectum and pelvis. Endorphins are released. Cervix is being pulled up over baby’s head.

Perineal tissues stretch, preparing to accommodate baby and triggering the urge to push. Oxytocin is released. Baby twists and turns through the birth canal. Head eases out, attendant suctions nose and mouth and guides baby’s shoulders and body out.

Uterus is contracting or expelling the placenta and clamping uterine blood vessels to stop bleeding.

Baby placed on mother’s abdomen, wiped dry, cord cut and baby eased onto nipple.

Mothering hormones are released to contract uterus, stimulate milk production and enhance bonding.

How long it may last

15 minutes to 1.5 hours

½ to 3 hours

5-30 minutes

How far along you may be

8-10 cm dilated

Fully effaced and dilated; baby navigates through the birth canal.

Delivery of placenta


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