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Phases and Stages of Labor

There are three main phases and stages of labor that you will hear referred to quite often when it comes time to deliver your baby. However, there is no reason to wait until you are in labor to learn about these phases and stages, what they involve, and what you should be doing during each one. The first stage consists of three phases, and the remaining two stages have just one phase each.

Stage One – Labor

Latent Phase
This first phase of the first stage of labor is called the latent phase, but can also be referred to as early labor, or just simply the first stage of labor. During this phase. your cervix will start dilating and you will be having contractions, and they are normally not painful and you are able to move around, talk, laugh and function through them as normal.

Some women, who want a more natural labor and delivery (and who choose to refrain from using pain relief), will choose to stay home during this first stage of labor where they are more comfortable and surrounded by familiar things. As long as their water has not broken, they may choose to take baths or showers, light candles, play music, or just sit and talk to their partner while they time contractions.

This phase of labor can last on average 8 hours, although it can also last much longer, or end much sooner. Your contractions will come between 5 and 20 minutes apart and generally last about 30-45 seconds. You should not be in a lot of pain during this first phase, or too uncomfortable. This phase ends about the time a woman reaches 3 centimeters dilated, which is when the contractions become more frequent and more intense.

Active Phase
This second phase of the first stage of labor results in your cervix dialating from 4-7 centimeters, and during this phase, your contractions will normally come between 2-5 minutes apart, and last up to a minute in duration. You will also start to feel much more discomfort and possibly more pain as the contractions become more intense as they help to push the baby down through your cervix. If they have not ruptured yet, this phase is the most common time for your membranes to finally rupture. The active phase can last an average of 3-4 hours, but can go on longer, or end sooner, depending on your body and your labor.

Transition Phase
The third and last phase of the first stage of labor results in your cervix dilating between 8 and 10 centimeters, and is the phase where your pain will be at its worst. During this time your contractions will seem to be coming one right on top of the other, and may last up to two minutes each in duration. During this stage the contractions are pushing your baby further down through the cervix, allowing his head to enter the vagina to prepare for birth. This stage normally lasts between 10 minutes and an hour.

Stage Two – The Birth of Your Baby
Stage two is the pushing of the baby out of your uterus through your vagina. Most women will find that they have a second round of strength as they begin pushing their baby. The contractions normally slow down giving a woman more time to catch her breath in between contractions. This stage can end relatively quickly, or can take several hours, depending on the position and size of the baby.

Stage Three – Delivery of the Placenta
This last stage of labor occurs after your baby has been born and normally lasts for a relatively short time. After the baby is born, the placenta should naturally detach from the uterine wall, following the baby out of the birth canal. The doctor will check the placenta for tears or problems that could lead to your uterus not contracting properly after the baby is born. It is important that your uterus contracts properly so that it can slow your bleeding and heal the area where the placenta was attached.

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12 Comments on "Phases and Stages of Labor"

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3 years 3 months ago
Just one thing from my experience I don’t agree with. “The third and last phase of the first stage of labor results in your cervix dilating between 8 and 10 centimeters, and is the phase where your pain will be at its worst.” Where your pain will be at its worst… That was not true for my labor. My labor pain got extremely intense at 3cm and that was the height of my pain. I call it my first “transition” that wasn’t really transition because in my head I was thinking “if this is what a 3 feels like, what… Read more »

[…] along the way. Instead of being born in three hours my son took about twelve. As you may know, in phase 1 of labor you dilate to ten centimeters and my son’s head was about fifteen centimeters large. This made […]

7 years 5 months ago

am in my 37th week my contraction comes with pain and hardening of the stomach which makes me feel uncomfortable after a while it releases me.

8 years 4 months ago

I really enjoy this website cause it helps me get my labor pains right. This is my 5th pregnancy and i’m having on and off contrication.

8 years 5 months ago

thank you for this. i have not had a baby for 31 years. epidurals are new to me. i was curious to when they would put in the epidural.

8 years 11 months ago

how long dose it take to dilate?

[…] Phases and Stages of Labor […]

9 years 5 months ago

wow thats a lovely peace of information for my first delivery thans lot

9 years 7 months ago

Just like to say thank you for the information. My partner and I are looking forward to having our first baby within the year. Very excited about it!

[…] I would need a c-section to complete the delivery because I just wasn’t progressing in my labor stages. I have to say, I was slightly discouraged. By the time the midwife left to make some final […]

9 years 11 months ago

Hi, I would just like to say I found this website very helpful and I now have a clear indication of what is expected of me during labor!
Thanks Again

10 years 20 days ago
I would like to mention that there is a fourth stage of labor that occurs after the birth of the placenta and for the next four hours. It is important for expectant mothers to be aware of this stage because women giving birth in a hospital or birthing center will be subject to frequent monitoring. This is to ensure that the body is adjusting to no longer being pregnant and it is a time of increased risk for complications. The monitoring is just to make sure that there are no complications, and if there are, these complications are promptly dealt… Read more »
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