Understanding Labor and Delivery

pregnancy-03-05Welcoming your little one into the world is one of the most exciting and challenging parts of motherhood. Learn more about the stages of labor, so you know what to expect during the big day.

While every woman’s experience during labor and delivery is different, all women go through three distinct stages of labor. If you’re feeling apprehensive about giving birth, understanding the changes that will take place in your body can help put your mind at ease.

Stage 1: Early and Active Labor

Stage one is the longest stage of labor and encompasses three phases: early labor, active labor and transition. Depending on whether you have given birth before, stage one can last for several hours or a few days.

Is It Labor?

In early labor, it can be difficult to tell if you are truly in labor or experiencing false labor contractions (also called Braxton Hicks contractions). According to the National Institutes of Health, timing your contractions and monitoring their intensity can help you distinguish between the two. Contractions during early labor typically occur every five to 20 minutes and gain intensity over time, while false labor contractions are generally irregular and may ease if you lie down or change positions.

Active Labor and Transition

Once you have dilated to 6 centimeters, you have entered the active phase of labor, according to new guidelines from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Most women arrive at the hospital during active labor, and epidurals or other forms of pain relief are generally administered during this stage.

The transition phase of an active labor is when contractions are regular (approximately every two minutes). The cervix is fully dilated when transition ends.

Stage 2: Baby’s Arrival

The second stage of labor is the most exciting—you’ll be able to meet and hold your baby for the first time. During stage two of labor, you’ll be given the green light to push during your contractions. This stage can last as little as a few pushes or it may take a few hours and is completed once your little one makes his or her grand appearance.

During this stage, listen to your body, as well as your doctor, and don’t be shy about making your needs known. Let your partner and/or doctor know if you want to change positions or need to rest for a few minutes.

Stage 3: Placenta Delivery

During the third stage of labor, the placenta will be delivered. The umbilical cord will be cut, and you will get to hold your baby for the first time. According to the March of Dimes, you will continue to have contractions, which help deliver the placenta. Breastfeeding, bonding with your little one and resting should be your main focus during these first few minutes with baby.

This article was reviewed by Jamie Cooper, D.O., F.A.C.O.G., OB/GYN with St.Vincent Medical Group.

Related Stories