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Labor And Delivery - First Stage And Beyond

Updated on November 8, 2011

Labor and delivery are the final part of your pregnancy journey. Most women are understandably anxious about giving birth and find that they become increasingly nervous as their due date approaches. The best way to approach the final stages of your pregnancy is to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible, particularly if this is your first baby.

Knowledge is a great tool and almost all of us feel better when we're aware of what may or may not happen. That said, this guide is intended to be read as a general overview of the birthing process - not an absolute. Always bear in mind that you and your body are unique and that you may well experience a text book labor.

Or you could be the same as I was - and move the goal posts as your labor progresses yet still go on to deliver a healthy, happy baby.

Labor And Delivery


Labor and delivery are made up of three stages, aptly named the ‘three stages of labor’. Each stage of labor is unique in that the process allows for certain changes to go on throughout your body. In order to give birth, your womb needs to contract; this will cause your cervix to soften and dilate, in order to allow your baby to pass through your vaginal canal.

Once your baby is ready to be delivered you will have an overwhelming urge to ‘push’ and this is your body’s way of propelling your baby down the vaginal canal. Finally your baby will be ready to be delivered and before you know it, the whole experience will be over - and you'll be taken back to the main suite, with your new baby beside you.

First Stage Of Labor

Labor And Delivery - First Stage

Effacement and dilation - the first stage of labor.
Effacement and dilation - the first stage of labor.

In Labor

In labor and in pain - but it's soon over with.
In labor and in pain - but it's soon over with.

The first stage of labor commences when you start to contract regularly – your contractions are easily timed, come fairly close together and they begin to increase in intensity. Whilst you’re uterus contracts, your cervix will dilate until its 10cm in diameter. The first stage of labor can last from anywhere between several hours to several days – as with your pregnancy, there is no way of predicting whether you’ll have a straightforward labor and delivery - or not.

It is broken down once again into three smaller phases:

  • Early phase: this is when you either realise you’ve gone into labor or may still be wondering ‘am I in labor?’
  • Active phase: when you’re in the active phase you will be having regular, strong contractions. You’ll probably start to become unaware of what’s going on around you and start to focus on coping with your contractions – in short, you’ll instinctively work with your body and how it feels. It’s also the time that you’ll be offered pain relief during the course of your labor, should you have asked for it.
  • Transition phase: You will reach this stage at the point that your contractions are coming close together – and they will be lasting around a minute and a half. Many women find this stage quite difficult, especially if they’ve already been in labor for some hours. Thankfully, this generally only lasts an hour or two.

The short video to the right demonstrates (speeded up) the effacement and dilation that occurs during the first stage of labor. Effacement and dilation are simply the medical terms for the opening and thinning of the cervix.

Second Stage Of Labor

Typical Delivery Suite

Many are similar to this one.
Many are similar to this one.

The second stage of labor is the core of the labor and delivery process – the part that brings mother and baby together for the first time. During this phase you will begin to push and slowly (or for some, rapidly) you’re baby will be delivered. You’re midwife will guide you through this stage and gently coax you as to when to push, relax and so on.

She will be with you every step of the way and most women instinctively trust the guidance given to them from their midwife. She may well be the midwife that tended you through your pregnancy or, if not, she’ll be fully aware of your birth plan. Your midwife will know exactly what you and your body are experiencing and her expertise in the delivery room is paramount.

Though the labor process will - by this stage - cause you to to be completely immersed in what you need to do, you will probably remember most if not all of what you have been through once it's all over. It really is a beautiful experience, no matter how painful of difficult it may become.

Third Stage Of Labor


Newborn Baby

A newborn baby - life's greatest gift. / CC BY-SA 2.0
A newborn baby - life's greatest gift. / CC BY-SA 2.0

The third stage of labor is from the point your baby finally arrives until the placenta is delievered. Some women are taken by surprise regarding the delivery of the placenta as they're so caught up with emotions it's almost an after thought. Most of us have to give a push to help the womb expel it but don't worry - it's painless.

You will find that the worlds best painkiller is a natural one - and arrives with the birth of your baby. As soon as he is born, all the pain simply melts away. In it's place come feelings of joy, relief, love, euphoria - and then utter exhaustion kicks in. Oddly though, most women (I was one) can't sleep for hours and hours after giving birth as they're so excited and relieved that its all over.

Whilst you're bonding with your newborn, the midwife will be quietly cleaning you and your environment up. Your baby will have been medically checked over before being handed to you and, unless you require stiitches post-birth, you'll soon be freshened up and returned to the main ward to rest.

All that's left to say at this point is this: when you reach the moment whereby you and baby are safely delivered after nine months of pregnancy and a good few hours of labor and delivery - congratulations on being a new mommy, you did good!


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