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The Four Stages of Labor and Delivery — Get Ready for the Big Day!

Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos · Updated Dec 15, 2021

The Four Stages of Labor and Delivery — Get Ready for the Big Day!

Pregnancy is an overwhelming time and it’s exceptionally exciting if it’s your first. After nine months of your baby developing, the last hurdle is actually going through the stages of labor and delivery. In this article, we’ll discuss what exactly happens during the stages of labor and delivery.

The first stage spans the beginning of the contractions until the cervix dilates to 10 centimeters. This occurs before what people generally think of when they say giving birth because, for starters, you won’t have to rush to the hospital until hours after the first stage begins. 

The second stage is what comes to most people’s heads when we think about giving birth. This is where the delivery of the baby occurs. After that, the third stage is where the placenta is delivered which is commonly called the “afterbirth” and the fourth stage involves the postpartum recovery period.

Stages of Labor and Delivery: The First Stage of Labor

The first stage among the stages of labor and delivery focuses on dilation. This the process wherein your body prepares for the act of giving birth itself. Dilation is the widening of the cervical opening to allow for your baby to pass through. 

The first stage of labor is further divided into three stages. These stages are the early labor phase, the active labor phase, and the transitional labor phase. 

What sets these labor phases apart are the levels of dilation and the intensity, pattern, duration, and time between contractions.

As this phase progresses it’s important to keep track of your contractions and have someone record them for you. Note down the intensity of the contractions, the pattern, the duration of the contractions, and the gaps in between waves of contraction.

Early Labor

Early labor is when the cervix dilates to 3 centimeters. Going from undilated to 3 centimeters makes this whole subphase last anywhere between 8 to 12 hours. There’s no need to go to the hospital this early on. Even then, it would be helpful for you to conserve your energy and relax for the rest of your day.

In early labor, the common duration of contractions is 30 to 45 seconds each within 5- to 30-minute intervals. This is also where your “water breaks” or where your amniotic sac will rupture, causing fluid to flow out of you. If and when this happens, note the color, odor, and time it occurred.

Active Labor

Following early labor is the active labor phase which lasts about 3 to 5 hours. In this phase, the cervix dilates from 3 to 7 centimeters.

 It’s at this point where you should make your way to a birth center or hospital, wherever you’ve initially planned to give birth. Here, contractions are stronger, longer, and much closer together.

This is a good time to start the breathing techniques to help you relax. Expect contractions to last 45 to 60 seconds with intervals of 3 to 5 minutes.

Transition Phase

After the contractions from the active labor phase, the transitional phase will be around for 30 minutes to 2 hours. At this phase, the cervix will dilate from 7 to 10 centimeters.

Contractions at this phase should last between 60 to 90 seconds with intervals lasting anywhere between 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Contractions will also amp up in this phase because they will be long, intense, and very likely to overlap. However, rest assured that this phase in the stages of labor and delivery will not last long. Your birth journey will only get easier from this point.

You may experience chills, hot flashes, gas, nausea, and vomiting, so it’s important that you communicate and rely on your support person.

Stages of Labor and Delivery: Second Stage of Labor

In the second stage of the stages of labor and delivery, your baby will be in focus. This stage involves the pushing and delivery of your baby outside your womb. Now that your cervix is fully dilated, it’s time to put in the work to push your baby out.

This stage lasts anywhere between 20 minutes to 2 hours and contractions will last 45 to 90 seconds at intervals of 3 to 5 minutes. Your body will have a natural urge to push and you’ll feel strong pressure in your pelvic area.

It’s completely normal to have minor bowel or urination accidents throughout this phase. You will also feel a burning or stinging sensation once you are crowning.

What happens then with your baby is that they will turn to one side. At the same time, they will automatically tuck their chin on their chest so that the back of their head will come out first. This is what is referred to as “crowning.”

The baby’s head will lead the way and the body twists so that it’s easier for the baby to slip out.

Third Stage: Afterbirth

Of  the stages of labor and delivery, the third stage, or the “afterbirth,” is the easiest and shortest. This is the stage wherein the placenta is delivered. Mothers often say it feels like an intesne version of menstruation. 

This phase can last between 5 and 30 minutes long and occurs after the baby is delivered. Contractions will signal the separation of your placenta from the uterine wall and that means that it is ready to be delivered.

It’s likely that your uterus may be massaged or the umbilical cord could be pulled gently to aid in delivering the placenta.

Fourth Stage: Recovery

The stages of labor and delivery have now come to an end. After delivering the placenta, it’s likely for you to feel chills and shivers. Once this entire process is over, you will be monitored to make sure that you’re not bleeding excessively. Doctors will also ensure that contractions in your uterus continue until all of the uterine lining is shed.

Learn more about Giving Birth here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos · Updated Dec 15, 2021

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