Three Phases of Labor

Stage 1: Early labor

This is the longest and easiest stage of labor. If fact, you may not even notice when it starts. It can happen in a few hours or a few weeks as your cervix dilates (opens) to 3 centimeters. You may or may not feel gentle contractions. Your contractions will usually last for about 30 seconds and start at 20 minutes apart. They may come in a regular pattern or be random. Other signs of early labor include backache, pressure in your lower belly, diarrhea, upset stomach, a little bloody fluid from your vagina, or your water breaking.

When you are in labor you may feel excited, relieved, or even fearful. This is a good time to surround yourself with good support and to rest as much as possible. You will need your energy for the last stage of labor.

Things to do:

  • Rest!
  • Eat lightly. Try toast, bananas, plain pasta or rice. Avoid anything heavy, fatty, or acidic.
  • Drink small amounts of water.
  • Go to the bathroom often. A full bladder can slow labor.
  • Make sure your hospital bag is ready to go.
  • Pay attention to your contractions. Time them so you know when they are less than 10 minutes apart.

Go to the Hospital Immediately:

  • If you have bright red liquid from your vagina or if you think you are bleeding
  • If your water breaks and it is not clear or it smells
  • If you cannot feel your baby move

Stage 2: Active Labor

This is when labors starts to get serious. This phase usually lasts 2-3 hours but it can be very different for everyone. You cervix will dilate (open) from 3 centimeters to 7 centimeters. Your contractions will start to come in a pattern and they will become stronger. They will last about 30 to 40 seconds and come every 3 to 4 minutes. You may also feel backache, fatigue, heaviness in your legs, and have more mucus from your vagina. If your water hasn’t broken yet it probably will. During this stage you should go to the hospital, especially if you want an epidural or other help with pain.

Things to do:

  • Focus on your breathing.
  • Try doing things to help you relax.
  • Ask for help! Ask for a back rub, a hand to hold, whatever you need.
  • Ask for pain medications if you want them.
  • Have small sips of water or even a light snack if your doctor says it is okay.
  • Move around and change positions, this will help your labor go faster.
  • Go to the bathroom often. A full bladder can slow labor.

Stage 3: Transitional Labor

You’ve made it to the end! This is last and most intense stage. It typically lasts for about 15 minutes to 1 hour, but can be longer for some women. Your cervix is opening from 7 centimeters to 10 centimeters. Your contractions will be very strong, lasting from 60 to 90 seconds and coming every 2 to 3 minutes. If you have an epidural or other pain medication, you may only feel pressure in your lower back and bottom. You may feel warm or cold, you may sweat or shiver. You may feel nausea or may even vomit. You may feel exhausted. This is the stage where you will begin to push.

Things to do:

  • Relax and rest between contractions as much as possible. You will need all of your energy.
  • Keep breathing! It is important for you and your baby.
  • Ask for help, let the people helping you know what you need.
  • Stay focused, your baby is almost here!

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