Labor’s Four Stages

Part of getting through labor is understanding exactly what to expect. Labor is divided into four specific stages. These stages aren’t hard and fast, and many women may not realize when they’re transitioning from one stage to another. And, because every woman and every pregnancy is different, you may not spend very much time in one stage, while you may spend a lot of time in another stage.

Here are labor’s four stages, and what you can expect to happen during each of them:

  • First stage.  This is typically the longest part of labor.  For most first-time moms, the first stage of labor will last for around ten to fourteen hours.  The First stage is broken up further into three phases.  During the early phase, contractions are very light and are 20 minutes or more apart, becoming closer to 5 minutes apart.  The active phase is next.  During the active phase, contractions are about four to five minutes apart, and may last for a minute each time.  This is the point at which you should head to the hospital:  after this is the transition phase.  During the transition phase, your contractions will narrow to 2 or 3 minutes between them, and will last for about a minute and a half.
  • Second stage.  This is the stage where you push.  The pushing stage can last as long as three hours or more, but for most women it is shorter.  A variety of factors, such as the position of the mom, the position of the baby, and medications used can affect the duration of the second stage.  Contractions space out somewhat, and will be about 4 minutes apart.  The second stage ends when your baby is born.
  • Third Stage.  The third stage of labor is when it is time to deliver the placenta.  You will be asked to push again, and the placenta will come out much easier than the baby.  This usually comes a few minutes after birth, and usually within no more than an hour.
  • The postpartum stage is considered a fourth stage of labor.  This is the time that your body sort of snaps back into place, and you recover so that you are able to take up your new duty of parenting.

From the beginning of the first stage until the end of the fourth stage is typically between 10 and 20 hours.  For first-time mothers, this time lasts much longer; for some moms with subsequent pregnancies, this can occur much faster.  Check with your health care provider as to when exactly you should head to the hospital, as she may be aware of specific needs for your situation.


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