Stages of labor and what to expect at each stage

The pregnancy journey ended, and now you are getting ready to meet your baby soon after an interesting trip called labor and birth. In this article I will go over the main stages of labor, and what happens at each stage, to best prepare expecting moms for this experience.

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Karine Chahda
Published on:Sep 4th 2022 |Updated on:May 10th 2024
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What are the stages of labor?

I would like to start by mentioning that stages have different durations and symptoms among first-time moms, versus moms who are having their second or third child.

The three stages of labor

The first stage of labor

It’s the stage where the cervix fully dilates to 10 centimeters. This stage is divided into three main phases.

- Early labor

During this phase, the cervix dilates up to 3 or 4 centimeters. Contractions in this stage are short as they last 30 to 40 minutes and they are usually far apart. The labor pains are light and bearable at this stage. While in early labor the expecting mother can walk, have a warm shower, and eat a light snack while avoiding heavy and oily foods. At this stage, there is no need to head to the hospital yet unless the water from the amniotic sack breaks, there is a bleed, or the fetal movement stops or decreases. It is recommended to have something sweet, if the pregnant woman doesn’t have any health restrictions, to stimulate the movement of the fetus.

The amniotic fluid

In case your water breaks at home you need to know its color, to share with the medical staff once you arrive at the hospital. The fluid might be clear like water, or green which indicates that the baby pooped in it, this is something that needs medical attention right away. The fluid might be mixed with blood as well.

2- Active labor

This is the best time to head to the hospital. Pain will be sharper; contractions will be longer and closer to each other. Active labor might last five hours, it depends on whether this is the woman’s first birth or not. The cervix will dilate from 4 to 8 centimeters, and you can get one of the pain management options such as epidural, laughing gas, or any other medicinal option.

3- Transition phase

This is where the cervix dilates from 8 to 10 centimeters, this phase can last from half an hour to two hours. The contractions are longer up to one minute each, and they get closer in intervals. Sometimes women feel some chills, and stress and they might vomit as well.

The second stage of labor

This is also known as the pushing phase. It can last between five minutes and two whole hours, and even three in some cases where an epidural is administered.

The final phase

At this stage, the baby has been born and this is where the placenta is born, during the forty minutes that follow the birth of the baby. The mom will feel some contractions and she will feel the birth of the placenta. After the birth of the placenta, the uterus starts to contract. I would like to emphasize the importance of skin-to-skin contact immediately post-birth, and its role in speeding up the birth of the placenta, helping the uterus to contract to its former size.

The companion’s role

It is essential for the person accompanying the lady that is in labor, whether it is the husband, or the mother to be well informed about the stages and signs of labor. To be able to best provide the support that is needed, and not to rush the medical staff into giving the epidural and allowing the expecting mom to move as much as possible during labor.

Check out Episiotomy: The untold truth

dr karen.webp
Karine ChahdaMidwife Nurse

A new mom and Licenced Midwife, she holds a degree from the Lebanese University. Karine worked in the NICU unit at St. George University Hospital in Beirut. Then, she worked as a Midwife in the same hospital for five years. She joined the maternity ward at Danat Al Emarat Hospital in Abu Dhabi in 2021. Karine has a great passion for her role as a Midwife; she believes it is a blessing from God to witness the miracle of life born from another life. She thinks nothing is more beautiful than witnessing this miracle daily through her work. Karine believes that each of us has a specific role in life. She sees her role not as a job but as a vocation where she can assist others, and she is grateful for this blessing.

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