pregnant woman at beginning of laborAs Gloria Steinem has said, “Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.” Regardless of how your baby is delivered every mom deserves a blue ribbon at childbirth.

Some women deliver by Cesarean Section, but the majority of babies are born through vaginal birth. Each women has her own unique experience. Some women choose to “go natural” and others choose to have help with labor pain through medications. No matter which method is used, it is a good idea to be aware of the stages of labor so you and your partner will know what to expect. Also, learning the signs of labor can help you know when it is time to go to the hospital or call your health care provider.

Below are the stages of labor typical for childbirth and a brief description of each. Labor happens in three stages. How long labor lasts and how it moves from stage to stage are different for every woman. But each stage has some signs that are true for most women.

Stage 1: Early labor and active labor

The first stage of labor includes early labor and active labor. You may be in early labor for a few hours or days, especially for first-time moms. You may want to spend this time at home or wherever you’re most comfortable. When you’re in active labor, your provider may tell you to head to the hospital.

During early labor, your cervix starts to open up or dilate. You may feel strong and regular contractions that come every 5 to 20 minutes and last 30 to 60 seconds. You may notice bleeding from the vagina at the beginning of labor which is referred to as “bloody show”.

During active labor your contractions get stronger, longer and more painful. There may be very little time to relax in between contractions. You may feel pressure in your lower back, and your cervix dilates fully to 10 centimeters.

Stage 2: Your baby is born

After your cervix is fully dilated, your health provider will want you to begin pushing so your baby can be born. This stage can last as short as 20 minutes or as long as several hours, especially for first-time moms.

During stage 2:

• You may feel pressure on your rectum from your baby’s head moving down the birth canal.
• You may feel the urge to push.
• Your provider may give you an episiotomy. This is a small cut made at the opening of the vagina to help let the baby out.
• Your baby’s head begins to crown (show).
• Your provider guides the baby out of the birth canal.
• Your baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut.

Stage 3: Delivery of the placenta

During the third stage of labor, the placenta is delivered. The placenta grew in your uterus (womb) and supplied your baby food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. While you’re bonding with your new baby during the first minutes of his/her life, your provider will get you ready for this final stage. It may take 5 to 30 minutes to deliver the placenta. Contractions begin 5 to 10 minutes after birth. During this time it is not uncommon for women to experience chills or shakiness.

After childbirth, enjoy the first special moments with your new baby as you and your partner welcome him/her to the world.

We would like to hear about your childbirth experience. How long were you in labor with your first child?