Learning about the 3 stages of labor is very essential for every expecting mom that’s getting closer her due date for childbirth. Knowing what will happen during childbirth builds up your confidence, alleviates your anxiety and helps you cope with the rigors of the labor and delivery process.
As due time for childbirth approaches, anxiety mounts, many questions arise in anticipation of what will happen during the process, how to know it’s time, what to do and how best to cope during the process.
When you have these questions, don’t think you’re alone. It’s absolutely normal and one of the key things you can do is what you’re doing right now – reading to get familiar with the process. Learning about muscle relaxation and breathing techniques also prepares you for labor.
Our exhaustive section on the 3 stages of labor down this page will provide you the predictable pattern of what to expect throughout the entire stages. So, take a deep breath, relax and read this out.
The true signs of labor indicate that early labor, which is the sign of the first stage, has started and before active labor begins, you would need to rush up to your hospital or call your healthcare provider.
Labor is basically the climax of the developmental period of your baby and is explained in three main stages. The entire process lasts an average of 12-14 hours especially for first pregnancy. Subsequent labor experience is generally shorter than the first pregnancy labor (spanning about 8 hours).
Now, let us get into the 3 stages of labor, which is our main focus here.
In the first of the 3 stages of labor referred to as cervical effacement and dilation, your body prepares to give birth. This stage may last several hours usually the longest of the 3 stages.
You need to be patient and calm enough to practice all the things you have learnt during your childbirth preparatory classes. By watching-out for the early labor symptoms you have probably learned about, you will have a clue when your labor starts.
There are three phases of labor stage one; namely latent or early phase, active phase and transition phase.
Phase I - Latent or Early Labor
In early labor, the fetus descends down, close to the pelvis while the cervix effaces and starts to widen up to make way for the baby to come out.
The cervix becomes totally effaced and dilates to about 3cm in this phase. Contractions become more regular, intensified and frequent with 8 to 20 minutes break after lasting for only 30-45 seconds contracting period.
Phase II - Active Labor
You enter into active labor when contractions get more intense, stronger and become closer together being about 3-4 minutes apart and lasting for 40 to 60 seconds.
The cervix gradually dilates (widens) until it is fully open to allow the baby’s head come through it. But in this phase, the cervix dilates up to 7cm, but your little baby is expected to be able to come out when cervical dilation reaches 10 cm.
Phase III – Transitional Labor:
The late phase of the active labor during which the cervix dilates from 8cm to its maximum (about 10cm) is known as ‘the transition’. Here, contractions get strongest as your cervix fully dilates. Contractions occur every 2-3 minutes apart, each lasting between 60-90 seconds.
At this point you may experience some peaks and pains as the cervix completes its remaining 3cm of dilation. If you’re lucky to be numbed by an epidural or alternative pain relief option, the rigors of transitional labor will be alleviated.
The term, transitional labor, is used to describe this point probably because of the fact that it’s a point of entering into the next stage, the second stage in the 3 stages of labor, fondly referred as ‘the pushing stage’.
The second of the 3 stages of labor is the crux of the whole process. Stage 2 is the delivery or childbirth stage! It ends when the baby is born!
Generally, this stage is the most challenging out of the three labor stages. As the second stage begins, your uterine contractions allow and motivate your baby to start moving down the birth canal. A little work is required of you at this point. You will need to help push during your contractions using your abdominal muscles.
Thereafter, you will see your baby’s head emerging through. This process is known as ‘crowning’. Once you see your baby coming, that initial glimpse would be a moment filled with excitement and pride. Following the head, the whole baby from shoulders through to trunk and feet will be born.
This stage may take up to 2 hours or more but this duration varies from woman to woman. Importantly, it’s assuring to know that you won’t be alone. Your birth caregiver will guide both you and your baby throughout this birth process.
After your baby is born, you will have to deliver the placenta (popularly referred to as “afterbirth”). This last stage of labor involves the expulsion of other membranes that have surrounded the baby and particularly the placenta; separating it from the uterine wall.
The uterus contracts to aid the delivery of the placenta and cut the blood vessels so that bleeding can stop. This stage usually takes between 5 to 20 minutes.
When all the 3 stages of labor are over, it may be possible to hold your baby during this time and some moms who plan to breastfeed their babies can do so about an hour after childbirth.
If you’re expecting, all of us at PregnancyMama wish you the best in your labor and childbirth experience. We love you!