It’s good to know what you’re about to go through. Labour has several aspects to it. Some are more intense than others. So let’s get to understanding the three stages of labour.
We’re going to go over the text book explanation of labour, and then I’m going to talk about my experience with each. Even though there are things that typically happen, it doesn’t mean everyone experiences them.
Before we go into real labour, let’s talk about false labour.
- 1 False Labour aka Braxton Hicks
- 2 First Stage of Labour
- 3 Early Labour
- 4 Second Stage of Labour – Pushing
- 5 Third Stage- Delivering the Placenta
- 6 Those are the Three Stages
False Labour aka Braxton Hicks
Braxton hicks (false contractions) feel like real contractions from early labour. For some women, they can hurt. The thing to remember is that they can be relieved.
If changing your position relieves the contraction, it’s false. Other remedies to stop
For some, these do not start until late third trimester. But for others, they can start as early as the second trimester.
You can learn more about
I didn’t have any early Braxton Hicks. About a week before I gave birth I started experiencing some contractions. They weren’t very painful and were erratic.
First Stage of Labour
The first stage has two parts, early and active. A woman may not be dilated or effaced at the beginning. Or maybe her body prepared early for
Either way, the first stage ends when the cervix is fully dilated.
What’s effacing and dilation?
When we talk about the cervix effacing we mean that it’s getting thinner.
Dilation refers to the cervix opening. Dilation is complete at 10 cm. Even in the US, where inches are normally used, we use centimeters when we refer to the dilation of the cervix.
For this reason, there is no definite time frame. Another reason is that all of these stages of
Early Labour is considered over when the cervix has dilated between 4-6 cm. For an uncomplicated pregnancy in the US, this is when doctors advise heading to the hospital.
Now most of us aren’t able to check our dilation level. So we go by contractions of when to head to the hospital.
In healthy pregnancies, women are advised to go to the hospital when they are having contractions five minutes apart for about a minute each.
If you go to the hospital when you’re not 4-6 cm dilated, you may be sent home.
We went to the hospital three times. Sara was finally born on the third time. The first time we went, we thought maybe my water had broken. Nope. Home we went.
The second time, I was having contractions less than 5 minutes apart. So I called the hospital. They said to give it a few hours to make sure I was dilated enough when I got there.
My husband and I waited a bit, then went to the hospital somewhere around 11 pm. I don’t remember very well. That’s either the time we got there or the time we left.
Even though I was having regular contractions, they weren’t strong enough. I was not dilated enough.
The hospital offered pitocin to speed things along. I chose to go home to try and be comfortable while waiting for my cervix to dilate more.
We continued to labour at home into the following day until about 1 pm when we went to the hospital the final time. I was still only 4 cm dilated.
It’s when the contractions are really starting to hurt and last for longer with less time in between. You can’t talk or concentrate on anything else except maybe your breathing.
Dilation goes to the full 10 cm. Dilation is also fast during this phase. Many use a term called transition to refer to the last 8-10 cm dilation.
From the time I got to the hospital to the
I gave birth
For some reason, the bed felt like a trap. I even had a panic attack during one contraction.
Sitting on the pregnancy ball was much more comfortable and allowed me to bear the pain easier. When a contraction struck, I’d just lean on the bed while my husband put pressure on my hips.
And that’s how we continued into transition labour.
The stage that really hurts. This is the stage when those going natural might start asking for that epidural (myself included).
Transition is when dilating the final 2 cm. It can last a few minutes or a few hours.
It’s not uncommon for women to shake and shiver during this portion.
At about 6 pm one of the nurses believed I was starting transition. She did not know how to check my cervix on a pregnancy ball and knew the bed sucked for me. So she didn’t physically check it.
But from how hard a time I was having dealing with contractions compared to before, she thought it was a safe guess.
I think she was right.
Everything went downhill from there. My contractions started compounding. She couldn’t check my cervix. I couldn’t stop shaking long enough for her to do so.
We tried a few different positions in the bed but nothing helped. Eventually, I felt Sara pushing against my cervix and that it was time to push.
Second Stage of Labour – Pushing
This stage isn’t broken up into different portions like the first stage.
That said, some women do experience a break before it’s time for them to push. There can be a half hour break where the contractions are less severe giving the new mom a chance to rest before the next ordeal.
Not everyone experiences it.
The pushing stage ends when the baby is born and it can last a few minutes or several hours.
Knowing when the pushing stage actually starts can be tricky for the one giving birth. Some women experience the feeling of needing to push before being fully dilated (10 cm).
Pushing before full dilation can make the labour experience more painful and cause tearing. So it’s important for labouring moms to pay attention to the hospital staff and listen to pushing directions.
One way to prevent tearing is to push slowly. Pushing too fast prevents the body from working with the pushes to get out of the way of the baby.
Babies are normally born head first. There are other variations, but I won’t go over those here.
When the full width of the head starts to show it is called crowning. When the head is fully out, the baby’s airways will be suctioned. The umbilical cord will also be checked. If it’s wrapped around the baby’s neck, it needs to be moved or cut.
Once that part is done, the shoulders and the rest of the body come out.
Baby is born!
From that first moment when I felt the need to push to the doctor arriving about 20 minutes later, the nurses told me not to push. It wasn’t that my body wasn’t ready, it was. It was that they wanted the doctor to do the delivery.
I listened and did my best to fight the contractions. That was the most painful part of the whole experience. There was a team of nurses around me monitoring and prepared to help in case something went wrong.
They had to give me an oxygen mask because I wasn’t breathing well.
They gave constant encouragement in telling me not to push.
But I couldn’t fight all the contractions. I pushed sometimes. My water broke during this time.
When I saw the doctor in the room, I was done. I pushed Sara out in 2 or 3 pushes. Because I pushed her out so fast, I tore really bad. We went from not being able to see her to her being fully born in less than five minutes.
Third Stage- Delivering the Placenta
The baby is born! But wait, there’s more!? Yup, the placenta has got to come out.
The uterus continues to contract to push it out. These contractions are usually not as painful. It lasts about 5 to 10 minutes.
I had read beforehand that the delivery of the placenta can be super painful. I was prepared for that.
It wasn’t painful for me. The stitching I got after hurt way more.
Those are the Three Stages
Some talk about
Here is a labour video that’s about 2 minutes. I’m not putting it right on this site in case anyone is squeamish and doesn’t want to see a live birth.
What has your experience in labour been? Did any of the stages stand out as particularly challenging? Are you waiting for labour and find any of the stages scary?
**Note: Even though I’m American I used the English spelling for
- Babycenter: https://www.babycenter.com/stages-of-labor#articlesection2,
- Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/multimedia/cervical-effacement-and-dilation/img-20006991