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Three Stages of Labor: What are The Stages of Labor?

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stages of labor

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Labor, one of the most painful and dreaded experiences of pregnancy, in some cases, can last for as long as 18 hours. Since it is difficult to predetermine how long your labor would last, it is of absolute importance to have someone explain the three stages of labor that might come in handy to gather yourself better on the D day.

What Are The Three Stages Of Labor And Delivery?

Labor, though looked at as a singular event, actually has three typically defined subset stages. Though all women have different labors and the period of each of these stages might also vary from woman to woman, these three stages are common to all pregnancies. 

Three Stages of Labor

  • First Stage of Labor: Active, Early, and Transition Phase Labor
  • Second Stage of Labor: “Pushing”
  • Third Stage of Labor: Delivering the Placenta

For a better understanding, we are glad to explain the three stages of labor via this blog post. Continue reading below and unravel the details below!

First Stage Of Labor

The first stage of labor is typically defined as the stage wherein the cervix dilates and effaces to prepare for the delivery of the baby. The first stage of labor begins with the onset of contractions and ends when a woman is dilated to 10 centimeters.

The first stage of labor is further divided into three subcategories-

Category DefinitionWhat To Expect Duration
Early LaborDuring early labor, the contractions start out slow, usually at the rate of 1 or 2 contractions per hour, transitioning to become stronger and more definite in the next stage.The cervix, during early labor, dilates to approx 3 centimeters.The contracts during early labor may feel like a more severe version of period cramps in the lower abdomen and lower back. Each contraction can be expected to last between 30-45 seconds. Some women might also lose the mucus plug and/or have a bloody show.Your water might also break.Early labor, the first stage of labor, is the longest stage of labor. It can last anywhere between eight to ten hours and in some cases, as long as the last few days of the last trimester.
Active LaborDuring active labor, the frequency of contractions increases and they would typically last between 45 to 60 seconds each, about 3 to 5 minutes apart. The cervix dilates from 3 cm to 7 or 8 centimeters.The contractions during active labor become more strong and will almost start to take control over you. You might find doing normal things like walking to the kitchen difficult to do.  Active labor can last between three to five hours.
Transition Stage of LaborDuring transition labor, the cervix dilates from 8 centimeters to 10 centimeters; the magic number of dilation! This is usually regarded as the most painful part of labor as this is literally the last step before a baby is born. Your contractions might feel like a big chunk of stone hits on the tummy.  You should prepare yourself to feel the ultimate intensity of the infamous labor pain in this stage of labor. The contractions can last between 60 to 90 seconds with only 30 seconds to two minutes to rest in between. In some cases, the contractions might even tend to overlap. Hot flashes, chills, and nausea might also be experienced.The transition stage of labor, fortunately, is the shortest stage of labor and lasts between minutes to a couple of hours. 

How To Get Through The Early Stage Of Labor?

Early labor being the longest stage of labor might get a little too challenging to overcome. However, the following are some tips that can help get through early labor-

  • Soak yourself in a bathtub 
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Stretching
  • Meditation
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Try to eat frequent snacks
  • You could even try to take a quick nap to calm your mind down
  • Being at home in a comfortable and peaceful environment also helps

Timing Contractions During Early Labor

It is also recommended to time contractions during early labor to be able to differentiate between an actual contraction and a Braxton Hicks contraction. Timing of contractions could be dependent on certain factors like if you’ve been pregnant before if you are a first-time mother and hence, it is always advised to speak to your doctor for personalized advice beforehand.

Typically, however, a general 5-1-1 rule is recommended for the timing of contractions. 5-1-1 rule of contractions means: if the contractions are five minutes apart, lasting one minute, for at least one hour, it means it might be the right time to head to the hospital for the next stage of active labor.

How To Get Through The Active Stage Of Labor ?

You would ideally want to head to your hospital if you haven’t already in the active stage of labor. Since this will be an uncomfortably painful stage of labor, this could also be the best time to use the breathing techniques learned in mom-and-baby classes. Also, if you have decided to take an epidural, it will be given to you in this active stage of labor.

Second Stage of Labor

The second stage of labor or the pushing stage of labor is the stage when the cervix has finally dilated to reach the magic number of 10 centimeters.

During the second stage of labor-

1. Contractions begin to move apart giving you some time to calm and relax

2. You can expect yourself to feel an internal urge to push

3. The baby’s l crown (their head) becomes visible in the birth canal

The second stage of labor or the opus stage of labor lasts anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour or two. The baby is born in the second stage after successful pushing. As soon as the baby is born, the nurse will mostly place the baby on your chest for mother-child bonding.

Three Stages Of Labor Explained: Third Stage of Labor

The third stage of labor or after birth, is when the baby has already taken birth and it’s now time to deliver the placenta.

How is the placenta delivered ?

After the baby is born, you might feel a few less intense contractions as a result of the placenta separating from the uterine wall. You will probably be advised to push once more as the doctor applies pressure on your abdomen to topically help detach it.

Placenta delivery might be painful for some women and might feel sensation-less for some others.

You might also feel a vibration go through your body after the delivery of the placenta. Placenta delivery lasts for just about 30 minutes.

Final Takeaway

Labor, truth be told, will definitely be an extremely painful experience. But again, is this stage not what you have been waiting for all through those tedious 9 months? Consider this your last stretch of the race, take deep breaths, clutch on your partner’s plan if you have to, and remember, you are going to ace this mamma!

Stages Of Labor FAQs

1. What is a ‘ring of fire’ during labor ?

Ring of labor is the term for a stinging sensation of pain felt during the second stage of the labor. As the baby is pushed out in the second stage, their head or the crown causes the mother's tissues to stretch resulting in the stinging sensation.

Can squats induce labor ?

Yes, squats have been known to help induce labor as the ‘up’ and ‘down’ movement during squats help the baby get into a desirable position that stimulates dilation. However, ensure that you only do gentle and guided squats to avoid any accidents or injuries.

3. Does nipple stimulation cause water to break ?

Yes, nipple stimulation causes the body to release oxytocin which is a hormone that causes the uterus to contract, hence inducing natural labor and causing the water to break.

Reviewed By:

Esha Chainani - Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

Esha Chainani - Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

Dr Esha Chainani is an Obstetrician, Gynaecologist and laparoscopic surgeon practicing in Mumbai. She aims to break the stigma around women’s health by advocating an inclusive and open practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. Esha is the author of several internationally published research papers and health articles in the media like the Swaddle. She founded Premaa, a non profit to reduce maternal morbidity and eventual maternal mortality by providing lower income pregnant women living in urban areas cell phone access through an app, to medically correct information proven to influence the outcomes of both mother and child. Her app Premaa pregnancy also has an entire section about contraception as well for a whole gamut of reproductive health. She has been on the panel for multiple health sessions including with the UN, USAID, BMC, gender at work and multiple non profit organisations. She’s also on the advisory panel of the South Indian medical students association. She is also an editor at the MAR Journal of Gynaecology. She advocates for accessible healthcare through her instagram account as well posting about reproductive health, mental health and sexual health.

On behalf of the editorial team at Parenthoodbliss, we follow strict reporting guidelines and only use credible sources, along with peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and highly respected health organizations. To learn about how we maintain content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.

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