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What to expect for the three stages of labor

Jan 06, 2019

Do you know the three stages of labor and why it’s important to keep the birth space as private and loving as possible? 

Stage One – Dilation of the cervix from 1-10cm

In early labor, most women find that they are more comfortable at home. This is because things are familiar and we tend to feel more relaxed. In early labor contractions may be spaced about 10-15 minutes apart. It’s good to rest in between and save your energy for active labor.

For the right hormones to be released, women need to feel safe and be given privacy. Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, is very important for regulating contractions and dilating the cervix. We can boost oxytocin levels by creating a safe space and being massaged. Endorphins are released in response to pain. They are stronger than morphine and act as a natural pain relief and contribute to a feeling of euphoria.

Active Labor

As labor progresses, contractions become closer together, are stronger and last longer. In active labor, contractions may be every 3-5 minutes. If you’re not planning to birth at home then it’s usually a good time to head to the hospital or birth centre when contractions are around five minutes apart.

Labor may slow down in the car or on arrival at the hospital but if it was established beforehand, women can usually get back into a rhythm. After arriving at the hospital, having a shower can help you get back in the right headspace. Your support person can then try to re-create a calm environment again. Things like nice music, good smells and familiar items can help you feel more relaxed and safe.

Transition 8-10cm dilation

Transition is usually the most intense phase of labor. Women can feel exhausted and a bit overwhelmed. It’s usually the shortest phase but many times people feel they ‘can’t go on’. Your support person can remind you that you’re doing great and baby is close.

 Stage Two – Pushing/Birthing

Once dilation is complete, the woman will usually feel an instinctive urge to push. Being upright or on hands and knees can feel more productive as gravity is on your side. The baby will rotate through the pelvis as the uterus pushes down. For a first time mother, the crowning of the baby’s head can feel like two steps forward and one step back as her vagina slowly stretches open. Once the head is born, the body usually follows quite quickly.

Keeping mother and baby close to each other helps with bonding and helps the mother to release her own natural oxytocin which helps prevent post-partum hemorrhage and helps her to safely birth the placenta.

By leaving the cord unclamped, the baby can continue to receive oxygen from the placenta via the pulsing umbilical cord. This gives the baby time to get used to breathing on its own.

Stage Three – Birthing the Placenta

At the time of birth, up to 1/3 of the baby’s blood volume is still in the placenta. It continues to pump blood to the baby for at least few minutes after the birth. If you can wait for the cord to finish pulsing, the baby will receive most or all of its blood. This blood contains iron, oxygen and stem cells and is beneficial for the baby to receive it.

In many hospitals it is quite common for delivery of the placenta to be ‘managed’. This involves an injection of synthetic oxytocin. A natural third stage, without drugs being used, is called a ‘physiological third stage’. You can decide if you’d like your third stage managed or not and let your care provider know your preferences.

Do you want to feel more confident about birth?

Download this free natural birth checklist that covers practical tips and natural suggestions for the three stages of labor. Start feeling more confident about your birth plan.


Learn the 3 keys to LOVING your birth and beyond. You can implement them today!