3 Vital Stages Of Labour: What Happens In Them And What Should You Do

3 Vital Stages Of Labour: What Happens In Them And What Should You Do

28 Oct 2022 | 7 min Read

Sudeshna Chakravarti

Author | 799 Articles

While expecting a baby is an exciting time for parents, the thought of going into labour can be nerve-wracking. Labour usually occurs around 38-40 weeks after conception and is characterised by strong uterine contractions. In fact, if you have connected with other mums, you would be well aware of the experiences of pain involved during labour and the associated difficulties.

Labour pain is divided into three stages—early labour, active labour, and transition, and knowing all the details of these vital stages might help you better prepare for what is to come. To make things easier for you, we have collated all the information about these stages, and what you can do to make your labour easier and more comfortable.

Stages Of Labour

Stages Of Labour
Time all of your contractions and record when each of them starts and stops / Image credit: Freepik

Labour progresses in three stages namely:

  • The first stage: This is the longest part of labour, where the latent phase may last for up to 20 hours. It begins with the onset of true contractions and lasts until your cervix is dilated to 10 cm.
  • The second stage: This stage lasts from cervical dilation until the birth of your baby.,
  • The third stage: The process of labour and childbirth ends with the delivery of the placenta.

Stage 1 Of Labour

This stage is also referred to as early labour and marks the onset of labour contractions that cause your cervix to soften and dilate. During this stage, you must start timing your contractions, and note when each contraction starts and stops. You will mostly experience mild contractions that begin 15-20 minutes apart and last for about 30-40 seconds. 

What Happens During The Early Labour Stage?

  • Your cervix will start to efface and dilate to 4 cm. The mucus plug, which has been blocking your cervical passage, and protecting the uterus from infection, will now be discharged.
  • Your contractions will start in an irregular pattern, and last for about 30-60 seconds, coming every 5-20 minutes.
  • Once the gap between two consecutive contractions reaches five minutes, it means your labour is established.
  • As your cervix begins to dilate, you will notice a slight pink or bloody discharge from your vagina.
  • Other symptoms of this phase include lower back pain, pressure in your pelvic area, and loose bowel movements.
  • Your amniotic sac can rupture at any time during this stage.
  • This phase can last for two hours or even for days.

What You Can Do During The Early Labour Stage

  • Call your doctor for guidance.
  • Distract yourself by participating in activities that interest you, like watching television, and listening to music.
  • Try to sleep after determining a comfortable and suitable position.
  • Take a shower or a bath if your water hasn’t broken.
  • Munch on some healthy snacks to build your energy reserve.
  • Get a neck and shoulder massage to relieve tension.
  • Try to pass bowels as often as you can.
  • Drink lots of fluids in the form of water and juice.
  • You may take painkillers, such as paracetamol only under your doctor’s supervision. 

When To Call Your Doctor?

You should call your doctor right away if:

  • Your water breaks.
  • You are experiencing severe and constant abdominal pain.
  • Your baby’s movement has slowed down or stopped.
  • You have bright red vaginal bleeding.

Stage 2 Of Labour

Stage 2 Of Labour
The second stage of labour consists of three phases, namely, active, transition, and the pushing stage / Image credit: Freepik

The second stage of labour involves pushing your baby into the birthing canal and eventually delivering. This stage consists of three phases: active labour, transition, and the pushing stage. We have listed the other important details of this stage and what you can do in the next section.

What Happens During The Active Labour Phase?

  • Your cervix continues to dilate from 4-7cm.
  • The contractions get closer, stronger, and more regular. They occur every 3-5 minutes and last for about a minute.
  • The water breaks with a gush of fluid and this will speed up your contractions even more.
  • The active labour phase will last about 3-5 hours.
  • You should consider proceeding to the hospital during this stage.

What You Can Do During The Active Labour Phase?

  • Get a lower back massage from a trained practitioner to soothe the pain.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Sit comfortably and support your back with a lot of pillows.
  • Call your doctor in case you need additional guidance.
  • Keep drinking water and other fluids to hydrate yourself.
  • Standing, walking, and sitting upright can help progress your labour.

What Happens During The Transition Phase?

  • During this phase, your cervix will dilate from 7-10cm.
  • The contractions will get stronger, longer, and more intense, and will last for about 60-90 seconds. They will come in every 2-3 minutes now.
  • This is the shortest yet most challenging phase of labour.
  • You are likely to experience chills, nausea, vomiting, and hot flashes during this stage.

What You Can Do During The Transition Phase?

  • Continue practicing breathing exercises.
  • Although it might be challenging, try to relax as much as possible.
  • Enlist your partner’s support during contractions, and ask them to massage your lower back for relief.

The Pushing Phase:

During this phase, the natural urge to push gets more intense. Along with that, you may also experience:

  • Increase pressure in your rectum, lower back, and perineum.
  • A stretching or burning sensation in your vagina due to crowning (baby’s head moving down). At this stage, you will be asked to stop pushing so that the perineum stretches gradually.
  • Usually, your doctor will wait for the next contraction, and then deliver your baby.

What You Can Do During The Pushing Stage:

  • Try to take deep breaths before and after each contraction.
  • Curl into the push as much as possible as this will allow all your muscles to work.
  • Focus on your contractions and take a break in between.
  • Keep yourself hydrated by drinking water.

Stage 3 Of Labour

Stage 3 Of Labour
During the last stage of labour, your doctor will assist you in delivering the placenta / Image caption: Freepik 

After your baby is born, your placenta is delivered.  During this stage:

  • The contractions begin 5-10n minutes after childbirth and are considered mild and less painful.
  • Your vagina will feel fuller as your placenta passes through.
  • Shivering and chilling are common symptoms that you will experience while delivering your placenta. 

What Happens After Labour?

After the delivery of your baby, the placenta is expelled from the uterus. However, if the placenta fails to come out even after 30 minutes of childbirth, your doctor will assist by injecting drugs to deliver it and prevent a harmful condition known as the retained placenta. 

In case of any tears in your vaginal area, the doctor will place stitches by giving you local anesthesia. But anesthesia will only be administered if you didn’t receive one during labour. 


Labour is associated with certain discomforts, however, knowing all details about the three vital stages can help you better prepare yourself for this experience. Try to remain calm during labour, distract yourself, and keep drinking water to avoid fatigue. Time your contractions, and call your doctor promptly if you notice any unusual symptoms like severe abdominal pain or reduced fetal activity. 

Cover Image Credit: Freepik.com



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