How To Anticipate the Stages of Labor

There are three stages of labor: labor, pushing and the delivery of the placenta. Labor is further broken up into three phases: early labor, active labor and transition and are determined by how dilated the cervix is. Remember that only trained medical professionals can tell you how dilated your cervix is. There are other indications of what stage of labor a woman is in, but the only certain way is with a medical professional.

  1. Stage One: Early Labor.

Early labor is probably the easiest to determine. In early labor, the cervix dilates from one to four centimeters. Some women dilate to two or three centimeters over the course of days or weeks with minor contractions. Other women reach four centimeters over a couple of hours with more intense contractions. Contractions in early labor are sporadic in the beginning and not too painful. Women are generally in good moods, excited to be labor, and maybe a little nervous. They may be a little emotional, but shouldn't have to concentrate too much on the contractions. Later in early labor, contractions become more consistent, longer and regular.

  • Stage One: Active Labor.

    In active labor, the cervix dilates from four to seven centimeters. Generally, the laboring woman has to work through the contractions. She will probably need coping techniques like breathing, massage, hot/cold compresses and hydrotherapy. Women in this phase of labor may be a little cranky and may have some bloody show. She may want silence during a contraction, and many women want people to stop telling jokes or stories even in-between contractions. Contractions during this phase become very regular; coming about every six to three minutes and should last 45 seconds to a minute. Active labor is much shorter than early labor, but will last several hours or longer. If the laboring woman wants pain medicine, she usually gets it during this phase.

  • Stage One: Transition.

    Transition is the worst phase of labor. In transition, the cervix dilates eight to ten centimeters and the baby may start coming through the birth canal. Contractions are on top of each other, with little break and may last as long as ninety seconds. Women in transition are extremely volatile and there may be quite a bit of bloody show. She may yell, cry, curse, change her mind, or she may be almost comatose. Women in transition are usually very vocal and may act completely out of control. They may be nauseous, shake, perspire and feel cold-all at the same time. She will also feel rectal pressure. This phase is extremely difficult, but usually very short.

  • Stage Two: Pushing.

    When the laboring woman is fully dilated (ten centimeters) she can start pushing to bring the baby through the birth canal. She will want to push with the contractions. In this stage of labor, contractions may space out a little bit and she'll get a longer break than during transition. If she doesn't have an epidural, she will certainty feel the urge to push. If she does have an epidural, she'll notice the pushing urge as rectal pressure. If she has an epidural, her care provider will give her pushing instructions.

  • Stage Three: Delivery of the Placenta.

    The final stage comes after the baby has been born. Women without epidurals may feel some moderate contractions as the uterus expels the placenta. Women with epidurals and holding their babies do not generally notice this stage. If you feel like it, ask to see the placenta-it's an amazing organ that has taken care of your baby for nine months.


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