Every labour is different, and some labours can take some surprising turns however most labours can be split into three stages. We have detailed these stages below siting the nhs.uk website as our guide.
At the start of labour, your cervix starts to soften so it can open. This is called the latent phase and you may feel irregular contractions. It can take many hours, or even days, before you're in established labour.
1st stage of labour
During the 1st stage of labour, contractions make your cervix gradually open (dilate). This is usually the longest stage of labour. Established labour is when your cervix has dilated to about 4cm and regular contractions are opening your cervix. Breathing exercises, massage and having a warm bath or shower may help ease pain during this early stage of labour.
If you go into hospital or your midwifery unit before your labour has become established, they may suggest you go home again for a while. However it is a good idea to speak with the unit to let them know where you are in your labour and they may tell you to call again when you meet some of the following stages,
- your contractions are regular and you're having about 3 in every 10-minute period
- your waters break
- your contractions are very strong and you feel you need pain relief
- you're worried about anything
2nd stage of labour
The 2nd stage of labour lasts from when your cervix is fully dilated until the birth of your baby. When your cervix is fully dilated, your baby will move further down the birth canal. You may get an urge to push that feels a bit like you need to poo.
Your midwife will help you find a comfortable position to give birth in. You may want to sit, lie on your side, stand, kneel, or squat.
Your midwife will monitor you and your baby during labour to make sure you're both coping well. This will include using a small handheld device to listen to your baby's heart every 15 minutes. You'll be free to move around as much as you want. Your midwife will also talk to you about your options for pain relief during this time.
3rd stage of labour
The 3rd stage of labour happens after your baby is born, when your womb contracts and the placenta comes out through your vagina.
There are 2 ways to manage this stage of labour:
Active – when you have treatment to make it happen faster
Physiological – when you have no treatment and this stage happens naturally
Your midwife will explain both ways to you while you're still pregnant or during early labour, so you can decide which you would prefer.
It is important to remember that these stages are guides and can vary due to many factors but we do hope this helps you to understand your body in birth as you move towards the end of a pregnancy.
For further information please visit www.nhs.uk and search for pregnancy.