The stages of labor explained

The stages of labor explained

All those scary stories that you've heard about labor experiences can be put to rest as we explain exactly what happens during all the different stages of labor.

stages of labor, labor, delivery, giving birth, labor explained, stages of labor explained

Read on to find out exactly what happens in each of the different stages of labor!

You’ve probably heard about a million stories by now from your mother, mother-in-law, sisters, friends and even strangers about what to expect in the different stages of labor. While some women may have had a traumatic delivery, there are many others who have had wonderful, holistic labor experiences.

With a little help and preparation, you’re more likely to feel confident as you prepare to deliver your baby. To begin, let’s go through the basics and take a look at the different stages of labor you’ll experience.


While the stages of labor are conventionally bucketed into four key stages, early labor, active labor, first stage of delivery and placenta delivery, Director of ParentLink, Di Bustamante shares that  she tries not to relegate the stages of labour into strict phases.

“If you categorize into distinct stages, you place a woman into a box – women do not fit into boxes – and the baby is an active participant during labor and have a mind of their own”.

Di suggests that instead of looking at labor in stages, you should look our for ‘typical’ indicators that labor is starting:

  • The Braxton Hicks warming up surges become very rhythmic and regular.
  • Sometimes there is the uterine seal releasing (mucous plug)
  • Sometimes there is a birth show (bloody show)
  • Sometimes there is a big bowel movement or constipation
  • Sometimes the waters release (as much as Hollywood would like us to believe this is how all labors start, only 4% of labors start with the waters releasing)

Advancing labor on the next page

stages of labor, labor, delivery, giving birth, labor explained, stages of labor explained

Di Bustamante prefers not to strictly categorize the different stages of labor.

Advancing labor

Advancing labor is considered the most painful time of labor. During this time contractions will double in frequency and in intensity. You might also feel very tired and really uncomfortable — but do not lose hope. In a matter of hours you will have your precious bundle of joy in your arms.

Signs to look out for:

  • Women start to focus on the contractions.
  • They tend to stop talking in between contractions.
  • The contractions get closer together and start lasting longer.
  • When the natural expulsive reflex kicks in (typically called transition) women might feel:
  • nausea
  • hot/cold
  • shaky
  • loss of confidence
  • inward focus
  • urge to bear down

Baby Delivery

As soon as your cervix is at 10 centimeters and fully dilated, your baby will slowly make its way to the birth canal due as a result of all those contractions. With each strong contraction, you will be asked to push, so do it with all your might.

Contrary to popular belief, the length of this labor stage does not necessarily depend on the size of the baby. According to Di, a bigger baby does not always take longer to deliver. She shares that gravity can help if the mother labors and births in an upright position.

Placenta Delivery

After the baby has been pushed out, it’s time for the placenta to be delivered. At this point, you’ll still feel mild contractions but nothing you can’t handle. “Birthing of the placenta should not be as intense as labor if the mother is not give a jab of synthetic oxytocin to reduce the risk of post partum hemorrhage.

If the jab is given, the placenta is usually birthed in 5 minutes. Without the jab, it is birthed in approximately 30-40 minutes. I have seen it take 3 hours. This is just a variation of normal,” shares Di.


With the baby successfully delivered and the placenta flushed out entirely from your body, you may now begin to relax.

If you opt to breastfeed, now will be the best time to start. Not only will your child get the best portion of the breast milk, but you will also help your body heal much faster.

Now you can take a short break, before it’s time to take baby home and begin your new life as a family!

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