If you are wondering what labor will be like, this doula’s guide to the stages of labor is for you! Not only will you learn what will happen and what to expect, but you also learn how to cope through it all. Let’s get started!
The Doula’s Guide to the Stages of Labor
The first stage in the stages of labor is devoted to powerful contractions that open the cervix to 10 cm but also position the baby in the best position for the next stage (pushing and the birth of the baby).
Stage 1 is also known as labor.
Early labor, one of the longest parts of the stages of labor, is when your contractions are further apart, perhaps 5-7 minutes apart. At this point contractions are around 30 seconds long. Contractions are mild, and women are typically able to talk and walk throughout. Women also begin to experience many other signs of labor.
One of the best things to do in early labor to cope is to rest and pretend that nothing is happening. In fact, I often say sleeping is the secret to coping through early labor.
- For a checklist of symptoms of early labor click here.
- If you’re unsure if what you’re experiencing is braxton hicks contractions or the real deal check this out.
- If you’re not in labor but wishing you were, here’s a list of activities to do while waiting for the labor.
- For ideas and activities to do to cope through early labor head on over here.
Active labor is when the cervix has opened to 6 centimeters dilated (give or take), contractions are around 3-5 minutes apart and each contraction is about 60 seconds long.
At this point, contractions are more intense and a woman can no longer walk and talk during contractions. Between contractions, she may still be her normal self and able to relax. During contractions, however, all her focus and energy has gone within to work through each wave that comes.
For a long list of symptoms of active labor, but even better – ways to cope through it all, check out my post Active Labor: How to Cope, When to Go and More!
Transition is the shortest portion of the stages of labor, but often the most challenging. Contractions are around 90 seconds long, 2-3 minutes apart and the cervix is 8-10 cm dilated.
Typically, transition is when women “give up” on a natural birth, ask for epidurals and say “I can’t do this anymore.” Birth plans fly out the window, and women look for a way out. Women feel hot, cold, sweaty, nauseous and may even throw up.
At this point, what may have been working is absolutely not working anymore which means a woman’s support team needs to step up their game.
For a more detailed post and MUST READ information about transition and how to cope through it, check out my post called how to get through transition without an epidural.
Seriously… read it!
Stage 2 of labor is when the cervix is completely open (10 cm) which allows for pushing and the birth of the baby (although I have found success pushing prior to that point, which is not necessarily recommended lol).
Typically, women feel relieved to reach this point. Transition is behind them, and the end is near. Instead of labor happening to them, they appreciate taking a more active role in the process.
At this point contractions may space out a tiny bit. Mothers are exhausted, and if she is able to relax effectively between contractions she may even find herself falling asleep between pushes!
If you would like these questions answered…
- How do I know when to push?
- What if I don’t feel the urge to push?
- How long will it take to push out my baby?
- Will I poop in front of everybody?
- How can I prevent tearing?
… make sure to read my post about how to push your baby out.
A don’t forget to read up about how to prevent tearing!
Stage three, the delivery of the placenta, is the most overlooked stage of birth. It’s also the shortest, lasting only a few minutes.
Delayed Cord Clamping
While we wait on the placenta to be delivered, let’s talk about when to cut the cord.
Immediately following the birth of the baby one of the first things most OBGYNs like to do, even before handing baby to mom, is to immediately cut the cord. If possible, it is best to wait at least one minute, but hopefully longer. Ideally, wait to clamp and cut the cord until it has completely stopped pulsing.
Before having a prenatal conversation with your care provider, be sure to read my post about delayed cord clamping myths, busted!
At this point, while waiting on the cord to stop pulsing and then for the placenta to be delivered, the best place for baby to be is skin-to-skin on mom’s chest (or belly if the cord isn’t long).
Skin to skin contact helps regulate baby’s breathing, temperature and gives mother and baby peak amounts of oxytocin – which is helpful for bonding, breastfeeding success, feeling amazing and for mom’s uterus to contract, expel the placenta, heal and shrink back to where it needs to be.
Skin-to-skin is where it’s at!
If for whatever reason mom cannot have baby skin-to-skin, the next best place for baby to be is on dad’s chest. Dad – take your shirt off and enjoy that freshly born baby. Your oxytocin will go through the roof!
Delivery of the Placenta
Finally, at around 3-15 minutes after the birth of the baby, a mother will begin to feel strong contractions, reminding her of the labor she just completed. These contractions have a purpose, however, and are helping to expel the placenta and at the same time prevent excessive bleeding from where the placenta was attached to the uterus.
Thankfully, the placenta has no bones so it’s relatively easy to push out of the vagina, even after just giving birth. And yes, there’s often a tiny bit of pushing involved.
Because you just gave birth, it will probably sting. But that’s it and you’re done! Hooray! You’re no longer pregnant!
PS – Many care providers use an IV of Pitocin to reduce the chance of postpartum hemorrhage. Research shows a link to postpartum depression and the use of Pitocin. Do your research to make an informed decision!
It’s at this point that uterine massages are a necessary evil. But let me clarify – it’s not a massage. Uterine massages don’t feel nice.
Every 15 minutes or so during the first couple hours, the uterus will be checked and “massaged” to make sure that it is shrinking back instead of remaining boggy and filling with blood.
Care providers absolutely have our best interest in mind – they’re making sure we don’t have a postpartum hemorrhage. So be kind to them, every time you receive a “massage”. They mean well.
The Doula’s Guide to the Stages of Labor
To recap, this is the typical progression of the stages of labor.
Delivery of the Placenta
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Thanks for reading! Leave me a comment and let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to know your thoughts or hear about your experience. How did you know you had moved to the next stages of labor?Check out my NEWEST eBook: A Simple Guide to the Hard Parts of Labor! What's inside? ---->> ALL of my best information about getting through the hard parts of labor. Want a copy? Simply click the image above, follow the prompts, and it will be delivered to you today!