The Four Stages of Labour

By Katie Roebuck

November 13, 2020

I am the mother of two children, an RN, Prenatal Educator, Lactation Counsellor, and Sleep Coach. My nursing career has been focused on Maternity and Obstetrics. I am based in the Niagara Region and I enjoy helping moms reach their goals with pregnancy and motherhood!

Congratulations on your pregnancy! I’m sure you have a lot happening right now as you start getting prepared for your new arrival. Understanding labour and what’s involved can be helpful as you mentally and physically prepare for birth. 

Labour Progresses through Four Stages from the first contraction to the start of your postpartum recovery period. I’m going to walk you through the basics of each stage.

Stage One

The first stage is labour! This is the longest of each of the four stages because from here your body starts contracting, your cervix starts changing, and you start progressing along in your labour. For a first time mama, active labour can take anywhere from 8 – 24 + hours – that’s a huge variance! Within Stage One you have three phases of labour, all with the purpose to open (dilate) and thin (efface) your cervix.

The three phases of labour in Stage One are Early, Active, and Transition

Early Labour is typically the longest part of Stage One. Your contractions may be mild and irregular, and things may seem like they’re progressing really slowly. It can be frustrating!

Active Labour starts at about 4-5 cm dilation. Your contractions are stronger, lasting about 60 seconds, and are happening every 2 – 4 minutes. Labour progression is usually smoother at this point, and this is typically when you will be admitted to the hospital to give birth.

Transition Labour starts at about 6 – 7cm and goes to 10cm or Full Dilation. It is an intense part of labour, but you typically progress much quicker at this phase, those contractions are strong now…you’re almost there!

Stage Two

Phew, ok we made it through Stage One of labour which is getting your cervix from 0 – 10cm dilated. Stage Two begins at ‘active decent’ which means you’re now actively pushing your baby out. Sometimes you can wait at 10cm for a while before pushing, this is called ‘passive decent’ and it can be really helpful to reduce the amount of time of active pushing. During Stage Two your birth team will help coach you through active pushing. This stage can take up to 2 hours for a first time mama and maybe a bit longer if you have an epidural.

Stage Three

Yay! Your baby is here! But you’re technically still pregnant! Stage Three is from the birth of your baby to the removal of your placenta – the organ that has been taking care of your baby for the last 9 months. Your placenta will detach from your uterus typically 5 – 30 minutes after your baby is born. Your birth team may provide gentle traction and oxytocin to reduce the amount of time you wait because the longer you wait, the higher the risk of your bleeding more than normal. 

Stage Four 

The removal of your placenta completes your pregnancy and you are now in Stage Four – Recovery. Stage Four covers the first four hours after birth. Your birth team will monitor your bleeding, get you up to the toilet, and assist with your baby’s first feed.  You will continue to cramp and contract as your uterus works to control the bleeding and your OB or Midwife will begin stitching up any tear you had during your birth. And you’ll also get the skin to skin time with your beautiful baby if everyone is well. This is also the time to rest, rehydrate, and eat. I always say labour is like running a marathon without the actual running part – you need to recuperate! 

If you want to know more about the Four Stages of labour, what will be happening to you and your baby during each stage, and how you can manage, contact your local mama coach for a prenatal class.

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