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Stages of Labor and Delivery - Pregnancy

Updated on January 13, 2010
Stages of labor and delivery
Stages of labor and delivery

Intro to Stages in Labor and Delivery

Labor and delivery are divided into three stages. During each stage, many changes are occurring within your body. The first stage of labor occurring from the time true labor begins until the cervix is completely dilated and the baby can pass out of the uterus through the cervix. The second stage of labor occurring from complete cervical dilation until the delivery of your baby. And finally the third stage of labor following delivery of the baby until the placenta detaches from the uterine wall and is expelled through the vagina. Labor and delivery times vary by woman and by pregnancy, as with everything else in pregnancy no two are exactly alike.

The blending of the following factors can affect your progress in labor and delivery:

  • Position of the baby's head.
  • Size of baby.
  • Presentation of baby.
  • Size and shape of mother's pelvis.
  • Mother's physical and emotional state.
  • The effectiveness of the contractions in dilating the cervix
  • Medications or anesthesia administered.

First stage of labor

The first stage of labor is usually the longest because there are many phases within the first satge. It begins with the onset of true labor and ends when the cervix is completely dilated or 10cms. The average duration for this stage for women having their first child is 12-16 hours, and for women having their second or third baby this stage is around 6-10 hours. There are three phases within the first stage of labor.

Early phase: The early phase lasts from the start of labor until the cervix dilates to 3 centimeters. The duration of this phase averages 8 hours and is usually the longest. Women are very social in this phase of labor and feeling very eager and excited. It is not necessary to go to the hospital. The contractions are mild, somewhat irregular, but progressively stronger and closer together.

Active phase: The active phase of labor dialtes your cervix to 7 centimeters and averages around 4-5 hours. It is about time to go to the hospital. The contractions grow stronger and are progressively longer. Women are no longer social.

Transition phase: Transition phase: The transition phase is the hardest phase within the first stage of labor, but thank goodness it is the shortest. It can be as short as 30 minutes and as long as 2 hours. This phase will dilate the cervix up to full dilation or 10 centimeters. These contractions are very intense and they may almost seem as if they are one right after another. When you feel an urge to push, tell your health care provider.

Stages of labor and delivery
Stages of labor and delivery

 Second stage of labor: The second of labor starts when the cervix is fully dilated and is completed with the delivery of the baby. Now it is time to push. This stage is shorter than the first stage, lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Your nurse will tell you when it is time to push your baby.

Third stage of labor: The third stage of labor begins after the baby is born and ends with the delivery of the placenta. It is the shortest stage and lasts anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. After a few labor like contractions and massage of your uterus, the placenta is expelled.

Below is a list to help you in determining when to go to the delivery room or hospital:

Labor contractions:

  • Growing more intense.
  • Following the regular pattern.
  • Lasting longer.
  • Becoming closer together.
  • Discomfort in back and lower abdomen.
  • Discomfort does not stop with walking.

When your water breaks (amniotic sac ruptures) note the following:

  • Amount of fluid.
  • Color of fluid.
  • Odor of fluid.
  • Time rupture occured.


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      Elle M N 3 years ago

      Every labour is different and this is just a mass generalisation. For example, "early phase of labour averages 8 hours"; mine lasted weeks! I was 3cm dilated from week 34 on my 2nd child, and slowly went through effacement. I am currently 70% effaced on my 4th child and have 3 weeks to go. It depends on so much.

      Transition lasts "anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours"; I have had 3 children, 2 of which the transition phase lasted no longer than 15 minutes.

      These type of articles are great for giving you a general idea what to expect, but do remember that everyone is different.

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      Lia Berquist 5 years ago

      If you find you are scared, the best thing to do is to take a childbirth class. And not one offered through your hospital. All they do is educate you on how to accept their interventions (which end up being the scary part). Take a class from an independent certified childbirth educator. I personally love the Bradley Method.

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      june 5 years ago

      im due number 6 in 11 weeks & its not as bad as some people make it out to be. my 1st was 9lb 10oz & i had zero pain relief (not by choice, it just went too quickly) if you stay calm & focus on something during contractions it helps to distract you from the pain as does the gas & air :-) also if you can push without screaming its so much better for you, on baby 1 i screamed so much i had a very very sore throat for weeks afterwards, on the other 4 i didn't shout or scream & felt much better for it. i don't have a very high tolerence for pain at all but when you focus on the out come you'll be surprised what you can do. the only tip i can give of any use is stay calm, labour does last a long time & if you freak out from the 1st pain it will only seem longer & harder........good luck

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      Betty Vought 5 years ago

      God,am scared because dis is my first.Hope it not that painful?

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      Karen 6 years ago

      Now i know what my OB-Gyne means when she said that my cervix is 2cm open. :D Btw. I'm a firs time mom and my labor last at 6 hrs. :)

    • profile image

      shilu 6 years ago


    • RitaDoulaRN profile image

      Rita 6 years ago from North Long Beach, California

      Good technical information. Except I tell first time parents stage one can last 1 - 3 days, so they don't keep coming in every 12 hours for checks, because they are "following the book."

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      lou 6 years ago

      you should be im having my 5th and hurts like hell, nothing prepares you for the event NOTHING! why 5? im stupid. Best thing i ever did was scream louder than the pain!! great if your midwifes are cool, i had one moody doctor kept telling me to stop making noise, i promptly told her where to go!!

      couldn't sit down for 3 weeks following a 9lb baby, Piles-they never told me id be giving birth to my arse too

      good luck x x xx x

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      Syb 7 years ago

      Yes Melinda I agree with you!

    • profile image

      Melinda 7 years ago

      Gee thanks, I'm now officially scared shitless.