Stages of labor and birth: Baby, it's time! (2023)

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.

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

Stages of labor and birth: Baby, it's time! (1)

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.

(Video) Stages of labor - physiology

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.

Early 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.

Active labor

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.

(Video) A Guide to Stages of Labour & Delivery

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.

(Video) What is Stage 1 of Labor? #shorts

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.

Now what?

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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(Video) Obstetrics - Stages of Labour

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Jan. 13, 2022

  1. Funai EF, et al. Management of normal labor and delivery. Accessed Oct. 28, 2021.
  2. Caughey AB, et al. Nonpharmacologic approaches to management of labor pain. Accessed Oct. 28, 2021.
  3. Satin AJ. Labor: Diagnosis and management of the latent phase. Accessed Oct. 28, 2021.
  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Labor and delivery. In: Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month. Kindle edition. 7th ed. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; 2021. Accessed Oct. 28, 2021.
  5. Landon MB, et al. Normal labor and delivery. In: Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 8th ed. Elsevier; 2021. Accessed Oct. 28, 2021.
  6. Meek JY, et al. The first feedings. In: The American Academy of Pediatrics New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding. Kindle edition. 3rd ed. Bantam Books; 2017. Accessed Oct. 28, 2021.
  7. Cunningham FG, et al. Normal labor. In: Williams Obstetrics. 25th ed. McGraw-Hill; 2018. Accessed Oct. 28, 2021.
  8. Wick MJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Dec. 6, 2021.

See more In-depth

See also

  1. Can vaginal tears during childbirth be prevented?
  2. Doula
  3. Episiotomy
  4. High-risk pregnancy
  5. Home birth
  6. Inducing labor
  7. Labor pain medications
  8. Massage
  9. Placenta
  10. Repeat C-sections
  11. Signs of labor
  12. Vaginal tears in childbirth
  13. Labor positions
  14. Tailbone pain
  15. Considering VBAC
  16. The epidural block
  17. Water breaking



What are the stages in labor and delivery? ›

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. The third stage initiates after the fetus is delivered and ends when the placenta is delivered.

What are the stages of labor and how the labor process takes place explain your answer? ›

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.

What are the 4 stages of labor? ›

Labor happens in four stages:
  • 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.

What are the 5 P's of labor and delivery? ›

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).

What are the stages of labor and delivery quizlet? ›

Terms in this set (6)
  • First Stage: Labour. - A women experiences contractions - a tightening and relaxing of the muscles of the uterus. ...
  • Early Labour: - Women may experience nausea, leg cramps, shakiness or hiccups. ...
  • Active Labour: ...
  • Transition: ...
  • Second Stage: Pushing & Delievery: ...
  • Third stage: Delivery of the placenta:

How many stages of labor are there in pregnancy? ›

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.

How do you deliver a baby step by step? ›

Here are some more pushing tips to try:
  1. Push as if you're having a bowel movement. ...
  2. Tuck your chin to your chest. ...
  3. Give it all you've got. ...
  4. Stay focused. ...
  5. Change positions. ...
  6. Trust your instinct. ...
  7. Rest between contractions. ...
  8. Stop pushing as instructed.
May 3, 2021

What are the 3 stages of labor called? ›

There are three stages of labor: contractions, childbirth, and delivery of the placenta. Pregnancy can be full of surprises, and labor is no different. Just how long or challenging giving birth may be varies greatly from person to person and from pregnancy to pregnancy.

What are the 3 phases of the first stage of labor called? ›

There are 3 phases to the first stage: Phase 1: Early (latent) labour. Phase 2: Active labour. Phase 3: Transition.

What are the 3 phases of the first stage of labor? ›

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.

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 many stages of labor does a woman go through quizlet? ›

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.

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.

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.

What positions help you dilate? ›

Try being upright One of your biggest allies is gravity.

When you are upright—standing, sitting or kneeling—the weight of your baby presses on the cervix, encouraging it to open.

Can you feel yourself dilating? ›

Can you feel your cervix dilating? As your cervix starts to thin and soften, you may or may not notice twinges and sensations in that area of your pelvis. This can be as much you trying to convince yourself something is happening though!

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 the second stage of labor called? ›

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.

How long does it take to push a baby out first time? ›

For first-time mothers the average length of pushing is one-to-two hours. In some instances, pushing can last longer than two hours if mother and baby are tolerating it. Normally, the baby is born with his face looking toward mother's back (referred to as an anterior position).

Can you push before fully dilated? ›

The urge to push is initiated by the position of the baby's head within the pelvis (Roberts et al 1987). Therefore, the cervix can be fully dilated without the baby descending deep enough to initiate an urge to push. Alternatively, spontaneous pushing can begin before the cervix is fully dilated.

What to do during contractions? ›

Medicine-free ways to handle pain during labor include:
  • hypnosis.
  • yoga.
  • meditation.
  • walking.
  • massage or counterpressure.
  • changing position.
  • taking a bath or shower.
  • listening to music.

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.

What does 3 mean in labor? ›

-3 station is when the head is above the pelvis. 0 station is when the head is at the bottom of the pelvis, also known as being fully engaged. +3 station is within the birth canal. +5 station is crowning.

What is the first stage of labor quizlet? ›

Stage 1: The first stage of labor begins with contractions of the uterus and dilation of the opening of the cervix to 10 centimeters (about four inches). Stage 2: The second stage of labor begins when the baby's head moves through the cervix and into the birth canal. This stage ends with the delivery of the baby.

What does 511 mean in labor? ›

Other ways to recognize labor:

The 5-1-1 Rule: The contractions come every 5 minutes, lasting 1 minute each, for at least 1 hour. Fluids and other signs: You might notice amniotic fluid from the sac that holds the baby.

How many contractions in 10 minutes? ›

Contact your midwifery team if: your contractions are regular and you're having about 3 in every 10-minute period.

How many contractions should you have per hour? ›

Traditionally, pregnant women are advised that experiencing uterine contractions every five minutes for an hour (i.e., 12 or more contractions per hour) indicates the onset of labor; however, no objective evidence appears to support this idea.

What is Braxton Hicks? ›

What are Braxton Hicks contractions? Braxton Hicks contractions are a tightening in your abdomen that comes and goes. They are contractions of your uterus in preparation for giving birth. They tone the muscles in your uterus and may also help prepare the cervix for birth.

What are the 7 mechanisms of labor? ›

Anglo-American literature lists 7 cardinal movements, namely engagement, descent, flexion, internal rotation, extension, external rotation, and expulsion.

Which type of delivery is best? ›

Vaginal delivery is the most common and safest type of childbirth. You'll probably hear the term “natural childbirth” used to describe a vaginal delivery without medication for pain or to start or speed up labor. Some mothers will still choose to have other medical help during labor like a monitor for the baby's heart.

How are Braxton Hicks contractions? ›

Braxton Hicks contractions are mild, irregular contractions during pregnancy. They feel like tightness in your abdomen. Some women feel a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions, while some women don't feel them at all. They typically last less than 30 seconds, and they are uncomfortable but rarely painful.

What are signs of labor? ›

Know the signs
  • contractions or tightenings.
  • a "show", when the plug of mucus from your cervix (entrance to your womb, or uterus) comes away.
  • backache.
  • an urge to go to the toilet, which is caused by your baby's head pressing on your bowel.
  • your waters breaking.

What does 4 Ps stand for? ›

The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) is a human development measure of the national government that provides conditional cash grants to the poorest of the poor, to improve the health, nutrition, and the education of children aged 0-18.

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.

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.

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.

What makes labor less painful? ›

Whether it's sitting, walking or switching sides, before receiving an epidural, try to change your position often to ensure labor progresses. Audio analgesia, or using music, white noise or environmental sounds like waves crashing, boosts mood, reduces anxiety and stress, and can lessen pain during labor.

What stage of labor does water break? ›

Typically, at the beginning of or during labor your membranes will rupture — also known as your water breaking. If your water breaks before labor starts, it's called prelabor rupture of membranes (PROM).

What is the first stage of labor called? ›

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.

What is stage 2 of 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.

How long is first stage of labor? ›

Early labor will last approximately 8-12 hours. Your cervix will efface and dilate to 4 centimeters. Contractions will last about 30-45 seconds, giving you 5-30 minutes of rest between contractions.


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