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The Three Stages of Labor

Stage One:

The first stage of labor begins when the cervix starts to open (dilate) and ends when the cervix is completely dilated to 10 centimeters. This is usually the longest stage and has three phases: early, active and transition. Regular contractions are the most obvious sign that you are in the first stage of labor, but they may be so light that it is possible you won’t even realize it early on.

Early phase

  • Mild contractions will begin to occur at 15- to 20-minute intervals and then speed up to be fewer than five minutes apart. At first, they will be very brief and they will increase from about 30 to 50 seconds in duration.
  • You may get a small amount of bloody show, a blood-tinged, mucus-like vaginal discharge.
  • Your water may break in a gush or slow trickle.
  • Lower back pain may increase.
  • By the end of this stage, your cervix will have dilated to four or five centimeters.

Active phase

  • Contractions are three to five minutes apart, last from 50 to 60 seconds and feel very strong.
  • Vaginal discharge increases.
  • Your water may break if it hasn’t yet.
  • You may feel tired and sleepy between contractions, less aware of distractions and less able to make decisions.
  • By the end of this stage, your cervix will have dilated almost all the way to about 8 centimeters.

Transition phase

  • Contractions are two to three minutes apart and last 60 to 90 seconds. They feel very different and choppy as they change from dilating contractions to pushing contractions.
  • The urge to push may start now.
  • You may experience nausea, vomiting, leg cramps, chills, sweats or uncontrollable shakes.
  • By the end of this phase, your cervix will be fully dilated to 10 centimeters.

Stage Two:

Your baby’s birth happens here! It may last as little as 15 minutes or as long as two hours.

  • Contractions slow to two to five minutes apart, lasting about 60 seconds each.
  • The uterus bears down with each contraction, creating an overwhelming desire to push the baby out.
  • The baby moves slowly down the birth canal until the top of the head begins to “crown” or appear at the mouth of the vagina.
  • With a few final pushes, the baby is delivered.

Stage Three:

The delivery of the placenta.


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