Stages of Labor

You've spent the last nine months preparing, and now childbirth is imminent. Let's take a step by step look at the childbirth process from first contraction to baby's first cry.


First Stage of Childbirth

The first stage of childbirth is generally the longest, especially for first time moms. You'll go through three phases during this first stage of childbirth.

Early labor

This is the very beginning of the whole show. You may feel a few weak contractions here and there, or possibly just minor cramping or a dull backache that doesn't go away. At this point you probably won't feel too uncomfortable, and actually a little excited to know the big day is finally here.

During this phase, your cervix will dilate (open) to approximately 4 centimeters. You won't need to arrive at the hospital until your contractions are coming a steady 5 minutes apart.

Active labor

Here is where the serious business of childbirth begins. Your contractions will intensify and begin coming closer together, approximately 3 minutes apart. They will start out as a small squeeze and grow to a strong peak, then begin to decrease. At this point you'll likely be feeling a lot more discomfort, and will probably decide whether you want pain medication or if you'll try to tough it out. This phase of childbirth will dilate your cervix to about 8 centimeters. You're almost there.


This is the most intense part of first stage childbirth. Your contractions will feel extremely strong, come very close together, and last longer. If you took Lamaze classes, now is the time to practice everything you learned as your cervix completely dilates to 10 centimeters. Happily, transition is usually the shortest part of your labor.

Second Stage of Childbirth

During transition, your baby has begun to moved down the birth canal. When transition is complete you are ready to begin the pushing stage of labor that will deliver your baby. Your contractions will change drastically from the sharp intensity of transition to more of a bearing down feeling in the pit of your abdomen.

Your OB will confirm that you are fully dilated, and bring the necessary instruments to assist the birth. When all is ready, your feet will be raised into stirrups that help you to get some leverage for your pushes.

When your next contraction comes, you'll be asked to take a big breath, hold it and begin to push by contracting your abdominal muscles for a count of ten, then expel the breath.

This is the process you'll repeat until the baby's head clears the vaginal opening and then you'll be asked not to push so your OB can suction out the baby's mouth to prevent any inhalation of merconium into the lungs.

Once cleared, your OB will ask you to give a big push with the next contraction. Usually one or two pushes will deliver the baby the rest of the way. The doctor or possibly even your partner will cut the cord and you can meet your new baby.

Third Stage of Childbirth

This stage usually passes fairly unnoticed while you are busy with your new child. A few weaker contractions expel the placenta, and labor is over. Your OB will repair any cuts or tears and you'll be prepped to go to your recovery room.

Congratulations, you've just survived the miracle of childbirth.

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