What Are the Stages of Labor and Delivery?

Reviewed on 6/18/2021

There are four stages of labor and delivery, starting from the contractions that help the cervix to thin (effacement) and start to open (dilation), which later progress to the point of pushing out the baby and placenta. In the recovery stage, the baby is delivered and the mother may feel joy, relief, and fatigue.
There are four stages of labor and delivery, starting from the contractions that help the cervix to thin (effacement) and start to open (dilation), which later progress to the point of pushing out the baby and placenta. In the recovery stage, the baby is delivered and the mother may feel joy, relief, and fatigue.

There are four stages of labor and delivery.

First stage

  • During this stage, contractions help the cervix to thin (effacement) and start to open (dilation)
  • As the cervix dilates, the opening is measured in centimeters (1 centimeter = 0.39 inches) and the cervix will widen to about 10 centimeters
  • This stage lasts about 12 to 13 hours for a first child, and 7 to 8 hours for a second child
  • The first stage of labor has three parts:
    • Early labor
      • The cervix dilates to about 4 centimeters and the expectant mother will probably still be at home
      • She should keep track of contractions but she can continue her usual activities and rest, eat light meals, and drink clear fluids if she chooses
      • When there is a change in frequency, strength, and length of contractions, and when a woman can no longer talk during a contraction, these are signs she is going into active labor
    • Active labor 
      • Cervix dilates to 7 cm and the expectant mom should go to the hospital
      • When contractions occur every 3 to 4 minutes and last about 60 seconds, this means the cervix is dilating faster and a woman will not walk to speak as contractions occur
      • A woman’s water may break during this stage, and contractions will speed up
      • Trying to relax in between contractions can conserve energy and help the cervix dilate
    • Transition to second stage
      • Cervix dilates to its fullest, at about 10 cm
      • This is often the most painful part of labor and contractions come about every 2 to 3 minutes and last 60 to 90 seconds each
      • Women may feel overwhelmed by the contractions and exhausted as there is little time to rest

Second stage

  • The cervix is completely dilated and contractions help move the baby through the birth canal for delivery
  • A woman may feel intense pressure, similar to an urge to have a bowel movement
  • She may be asked to push with each contraction, which will continue to be strong but will be more spaced out
  • The length of this stage depends on whether a woman has given birth before, and if so, how many times, and the position and size of the baby

Third stage

  • After the birth, the uterus continues contracting to push out the placenta (afterbirth)
  • The placenta is typically delivered about 5 to 15 minutes after the baby arrives

Fourth stage

  • This is the recovery stage
  • The baby is delivered and the placenta is expelled
  • Most women feel joy, relief, and fatigue
  • Most babies are ready to breastfeed shortly after birth and women who plan to breastfeed may be encouraged to try to nurse as soon as possible to help the uterus contract and decrease the amount of bleeding

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Reviewed on 6/18/2021
References
https://wa.kaiserpermanente.org/healthAndWellness/index.jhtml?item=%2Fcommon%2FhealthAndWellness%2Fpregnancy%2Fbirth%2FlaborStages.html