There are three stages of labour. Interestingly, the final stage is actually after your baby has been born, the delivery of your placenta. Find out what to expect during each phase of labour.
First Stage of Labour
The first stage consists of early labour, active labour and the transitional stage. Also known as established labour, the first stage is when contractions gradually open up the cervix (neck of the uterus).
Early labour (latent phase)
The first stage of labour, called early labour (or latent phase) is usually the longest - from hours to several weeks, your cervix will begin to dilate to about 3cm. Contractions may feel like mild cramps or menstrual pains and could be regular or irregular at this stage. Typically they would be 20 minutes apart and become closer together although not necessarily in a consistent pattern. It is advised to stay at home during early labour until contractions become stronger and closer together, in a regular pattern.
Depending on different factors, early labour can be unpredictable. For some pregnant women, this stage can feel as though it stops and starts again at an irregular pace for days whereas, for others, early labour will progress quickly into active labour. The following coping strategies can help you through the first stage of labour:
Have a soak in a warm bath
If you are hungry, eat a light, energy boosting meal
Drink water - keep hydrated!
Practise breathing techniques
Use a TENS machine to help relieve aches and pains
Use a birthing ball to help you feel more comfortable
During active labour, your cervix continues to dilate. Contractions will become more powerful and more frequent - around every three to four minutes and will last around 40-60 seconds (though the pattern may not be regular). At this stage, you may find it difficult to talk through your contractions. Using relaxation and breathing techniques could help you to focus and feel calmer. At this stage, you should move to your place of birth, or have your midwife come to you if you are having a home birth.
Transitional Stage (advanced labour)
The most intensive stage but fortunately the shortest stage. Contractions will become more intense - spaced only two to three minutes apart and will last 60 to 90 seconds long. By the end of the transitional stage, your cervix will be fully dilated at 10cm and your baby will be well on the way!
Second Stage of Labour
The second stage of labour is when your cervix is fully dilated and your body will be ready to deliver your baby. Your midwife will help you to find a comfortable position to give birth.
Typically lasting a few minutes to a couple of hours - if you have had a baby before this stage will likely take less time.
Your baby will move further down in your pelvis with every contraction and push. As your baby is about to be born, you will feel a stinging sensation (known as crowning). Your midwife will encourage you to pant rather than push at this point. Once your baby’s head is out, your body will do the rest with the next contraction. All the hard work has paid off - Congratulations you are now a mummy.
Third Stage of Labour (afterbirth)
The placenta (which is also known as the afterbirth) will be delivered or pushed out. This is called the third stage of labour. You can usually hold your baby during this stage if you want to.
When you were pregnant, a midwife should have explained to you about the 2 options for the third stage, and about the pros and cons of each. They are called active management and physiological management.
Active Management - Injection of a drug called oxytocin into your thigh, usually as you give birth
- The cord is clamped and cut between 1 and 5 minutes after the birth
- The placenta is pulled out by the midwife once it has separated from the wall of the uterus (womb)
Physiological Management - No injection is given
- The cord is clamped and cut once it has stopped pulsing
- You push the placenta out with contractions, which can take up to 1 hour.
As all aspects of birth, this is your choice and you should make an informed decision that works for you.