Labor and delivery are divided into three stages. Each stage plays a very important role in the labor process. The first stage begins with the onset of your early contractions and runs through the full dilation of your cervix (it is then subdivided into 2 phases, early and active labor). The second stage begins when your cervix is fully dilated and ends with the birth of the baby. And finally the third stage begins after the birth of the baby and ends when the placenta is delivered. How long it takes you to get through the various stages and through the entire labor and delivery process will completely depend. Labor and delivery times vary by woman and by pregnancy, as with everything else in pregnancy no two are exactly alike.
First Stage: Labor
Phase one of the first stage is known as early labor. It begins with the onset of contractions that come at regular intervals. These regular contractions will begin to soften and dilate your cervix. As early labor progresses your contractions will grow longer and closer together. Some women may see a blood tinged mucus, often referred to as the plug during this stage of labor; your “water” may also break. Early labor lasts until you are 4 centimeters dilated.
You should call your doctor or midwife when your contractions are at regular intervals and are getting closer together so they can advise you on when to head to the hospital. You should also call if you experience a breaking of your “water” or any bleeding.
Phase two of the first stage is known as active labor. It begins when you reach 4 centimeters dilation and ends when you are fully (10 centimeters) dilated. Your contractions during this phase of labor will become much longer and much stronger. Towards the end of active labor you may begin to feel pressure as the baby descends further into the birth canal in preparation for delivery. The closer you get to 10 centimeters the stronger your contractions will be and the more often they will come.
Second Stage: Pushing
When your cervix is fully dilated and the baby has descended into the birth canal it is time to start pushing. Doctors will often have to you do a few trial pushes once you are fully dilated to see if you are ready to push “for real”. If you are the doctor will have you push during your contractions. The contractions are your body’s natural way of getting the baby out, while the pushing you do helps the process along. Your doctor, or midwife, will guide you in the pushing to ensure you are pushing at the right times to have the most impact. Towards the end as the baby begins to descend quickly they will likely have you ease up on the pushing so that the baby is not delivered too quickly and to prevent any unnecessary tearing.
Once the baby is delivered the doctor or midwife will suction his/her nose and mouth, wipe him/her down and hand the baby to you. This will be a very awesome, emotional, and exciting time for you.
Third Stage: Delivering the Placenta
This stage occurs within minutes of the delivery of the baby. The uterus will contract a few times to separate the placenta from the uterine wall, once the doctor sees that the separation has occurred they will likely ask you to give a few light pushes to deliver the placenta. Your doctor will examine the placenta to ensure everything looks ok and if there were any tears and or incisions made to your perineum during the delivery they will stitched up at this time.
It is a good idea to discuss the various stages of your labor and delivery with your doctor or midwife during your pregnancy so you can ensure you are on the same page. Let them know about things you would like done or not done during each of the stages. If you have questions or concerns about any of the things you will experience during your labor and delivery it is best to discuss those ahead of time so you are more comfortable during the process itself.
Here are a few helpful websites.