The Stages of Labor

The Stages of Labor

Let's get down to the nitty gritty details of having a baby. And I mean that literally, because we're talking labor ladies, and the things you can expect to happen before the big reveal.

When you're getting ready to deliver there are a million things going through your head, and one of the top things on that list is how on earth is this little thing gonna go from inside to outside... I mean have you ever looked down there?! It seems impossible, and the pregnancy anxiety is so real, but I promise we'll all get through this together. This post is dedicated to the mamas who are looking for some answers to your burning labor questions. First off you should know there are technically three stages of labor

so I'll do my best to break it down for you so you know roughly what to expect and when you may or may not want to start screaming for a ride to the hospital.

Stage 1

During this stage you'll start having contractions that will widen your cervix and prepare your body for pushing. Depending on your birth plan, you may or may not decide to be in the hospital for stage 1, as some mamas find it just as uncomfortable (or more comfortable depending on how you look at it) to deal with stage 1 at home instead of strapped to a tilted hospital bed. Stage 1 is also confusingly split up into two different parts: early labor and active labor.

Early Labor

For those mamas out there like me who didn't experience any Braxton hicks or have their water break before heading to the hospital, having your first contraction pretty much makes you rethink this whole pregnancy thing. Great timing! The funny thing is these aren't even the worst ones. I know, it's really not funny at all. Yay for babies! Right? Right?! Well these "mild" contractions will start to thin out and dilate your cervix, and they will start becoming closer together and stronger. Usually contractions in this stage will last less than a minute and may be less consistent than in active labor. A lot of women will choose to be in early labor at home where they can be a little more comfortable, walk around, and put off going to the hospital a little longer. It's hard to say how long you're going to be in this stage, but you will usually be in early labor until you are dilated to 4-6 cm.

Active Labor

Once your contractions start becoming longer and stronger, and you start having them more often, it's a good indication that active labor has started. If you've been at home and you're no longer able to talk through your contractions, or are having contractions every five minutes that last for about a minute, it's time to head to the hospital and check in! Or if you're already there, this is the time to ask for some pain meds (like me, thank you very much) to help dull the pain. An epidural will usually be administered at the beginning of active labor (or even early labor depending on your preference and your doc's recommendation). Most will experience zero pain for the rest of their labor experience. Bless you, epidural. Bless you. If you're choosing to go natural, this will be the time when all of those coping and breathing techniques will come in handy! Try your best to stay calm and relax. For some, light exercise helps distract through the pain. This stage will be a little shorter than early labor because your body is working double time to get that cervix into position for babe to descend. Keep in mind that if you've decided on an epidural, this stage may last a little longer because your body isn't in any rush to push through the pain. During this stage your contractions will increase in frequency to help you dilate to 10 cm, and once you're at this happy number, it's time to get ready to push!


There's a funny little extra step at the end of active labor called transition, because it's literally your body's transition from dilating to pushing. It usually happens once your cervix has almost fully dilated, and you may feel the urge to start pushing because babe has descended low enough to put some real pressure down there. Your contractions are strongest during this transition period, coming every couple of minutes and lasting at least a minute. Yeah, no real down time during transition. This is when the fun begins and the nurses are making sure your doctor is there!

Stage 2

Now that you're in Stage 2, there's bound to be a little more activity in your room. Nurses will be coming in and out, your OB will have been called in for the delivery, and you're going to start pushing. If you've taken a birthing class, you'll know all about bearing down during your contractions, and resting during the breaks. If you've had an epidural, this will obviously be a hard thing to judge, so your nurse will be your BFF. She'll let you know when to push and when to rest, and she'll coach you through the whole thing. Bless you nurses. Bless you. If you're feeling the pain the natural way, you will feel the urge to push during each contraction, and you should take some time to breathe and rest during those breaks. Your body is doing AMAZING things, and the uterus is pushing that little love down with every contraction you have! For some mamas, this will only last for a few pushes, and for some it can take a few hours. With my first I was pushing for three hours, with my second it took two contractions, and she was out. Every babe and every body is different! Once the baby crowns, or his/her little head can be seen during a push, it doesn't take long for you to push them the rest of the way out! Usually just two or three pushes, with what feels like every nurse in the hospital, your husband, and choruses of angels cheering you on to "PUSH!"

And just like that, your baby is born! They come out covered in yucky whiteish and bloody gunk, that you aren't even paying attention to because all you can see is your little love that you've been dreaming of holding for nine months. The nurses are weighing and measuring him/her, they're wiping him/her off a little, they're handing him/her over, and you realize you've never held anything more perfect in your whole life.

Stage 3

You're probably sobbing, and all the while you're in stage 3: after birth. Literally. This is the stage when you are delivering the placenta, or your baby's home for the last nine months. This will usually be painless, and won't last long at all. For both of my deliveries, I felt a slight tugging sensation but it generally isn't uncomfortable (especially compared to the labor you just went through). Your doctor may ask you to push once or twice to make sure everything's out, but then you're getting cleaned up just like baby. This is when you will generally get stitched up if you had any tearing (or if you had an episiotomy). Tearing will depend on your body and generally the speed and length of your labor--with my first I tore pretty significantly and had several stitches, and with my second I didn't tear at all. By this point, your baby may have had a few tests done, may have had a little bath, and (if you've chosen to go that route) you've probably had your first experience breastfeeding. The whole process that started with a few uncomfortable twinges in your tummy has produced your little angel. No matter what your birth plan, whether natural or pain free, you should keep in mind that timing can change from woman to woman, and even from one baby to the next. For your first, this whole shebang will probably last a little longer, and will get a little "easier" with each babe.

At the end of the day (or a very, very long night) you'll go through 3 stages of labor, and end up with a beautiful miracle at the end to show for all your hard work. Don't stress, and remember your body is absolutely capable of doing this! You've got this thing mama! XO

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