If you’re in your third trimester you’re probably beginning to wonder what labor and delivery will be like. There are three stages of labor with each stage serving a specific purpose. In this post, I will break down each stage so you will have a better idea of what to expect.

Stage 1- Early & Active Labor

     Stage 1 of labor is composed of 2 phases, early labor and active labor. It is the longest stage and can last from hours to days and is typically longer for first-time moms. (1) Stage 1 begins when contractions start to occur at irregular intervals. As labor progresses, the contractions will become more intense and closer together. (2) The contractions are causing the cervix to soften, shorten, and open allowing the baby to enter the birth canal. (2) Stage 1 ends once the cervix has dilated to 10 cm.

Early Labor

     The first phase of stage 1 is considered “early labor.” Contractions will start mild and far apart and progressively become stronger and closer together. Most women also lose their mucus plug during this phase. The mucus plug blocks the cervical opening during pregnancy and may have a pink tint to it. (2) There is no set time for how long early labor lasts but it tends to be the longest part, especially for first-time moms. If you’re having your baby in a hospital or birth center, this is the phase where you can stay home and just focus on staying comfortable. It can also be helpful to go for a walk, take a bath or shower, and relax and nap as much as you can. (1)


Active Labor

     Active labor typically begins once the cervix has dilated to 6 cm and contractions have become regular. (2) If you are giving birth at the hospital or birthing center, this is the time you would head that way. During active labor, contractions will become more intense and closer together, you may start having pressure in your lower back, and you may start to feel nauseated. (2) This phase usually lasts from 4-8 hours but can vary from woman to woman. This is also the phase when your water might break if it hasn’t already. (1) Active labor ends once your cervix has reached 10 cm dilation. (1) At this point labor moves into the transition stage.

Stage 2- Transition

     Transition refers to the shift from active labor to the pushing phase. After your cervix is fully dilated (10 cm), it’s time to start pushing your baby out! This stage will require the most work from you, but many women enjoy it because they feel as though have a little more control. Eventually, you will feel an irresistible urge to push. Your doctor or midwife will also monitor and help you decide when to push and when to relax. Sometimes they will have you not push to allow the vaginal skin to stretch and not tear. (2) Your baby’s head will be delivered first, then the rest of the body. After the baby is delivered, the umbilical cord that is attached to the placenta will be cut. If you want to learn about the benefits of “delayed cord clamping,” click here.

This part of labor can be very challenging, so it’s important to find a position where pushing is effective and as comfortable as possible. You can be lying down on your back, on your side, squatting, kneeling, or on all fours. (1)

Stage 3- Delivery of Placenta

     The third and final stage of labor is when you deliver the placenta. The placenta is attached to the uterus and provides nutrients to the baby throughout pregnancy. It usually takes around 30 min for the placenta to be delivered after the baby is born. (2) You will continue to feel contractions, but they are much milder than what you felt during Stages 1 and 2. After the placenta is delivered, you’re officially done with labor! Now it’s time to enjoy your new baby and start recovering!