The Stages of Labor: What Pregnant Moms Need to Know About the 3 Stages of Childbirth by Dr. Brennan Lang
Did you know that labor is broken down into stages? But keep in mind, no two pregnancies are the same and no two labors are the same. Each time you are in labor there may be new hurdles. No matter who is taking care of you in labor, always remember to ask questions. With that said, here's the basics of what moms-to-be need to know about the stages of labor during pregnancy:
First Stage of Labor: Before labor, contractions are usually intermittent and non-painful. Although Braxton Hicks can be painful, if they are not regular and frequent (at least every 10-15 minutes) they usually will not cause cervical dilation. Once contractions become both regular and painful you are “in labor.” The first stage of labor is usually the longest and lasts from the onset of painful regular contractions until your cervix becomes completely dilated.
The first stage of labor is divided into a slower latent phase and a faster active phase. The transition point is not the same for all women, but usually occurs between 4 and 6 cm of dilation. But you can’t predict when exactly your labor will speed up. You can only know retrospectively after your medical provider checks your cervix. During this stage your medical provider will intermittently check your cervix and may consider augmenting, or assisting, your labor progression by giving you medications or helping to break your bag of water.
"Transitioning" occurs in the first stage of labor as you transition from the slower latent phase of labor to the faster active phase of labor. During this time, contractions often occur every 2 to 3 minutes and are quite strong. Women often experience shaking or shivering and may feel very intense pelvic pressure, nausea, the urge to use the restroom and sometimes the urge to push.
Second Stage of Labor: The second stage of labor starts when you are completely dilated and ends when your baby is delivered. Mothers push during this stage and their medical providers intermittently assess the progress or descent of the child through the pelvis
Third Stage of Labor: The third stage starts when your baby is delivered and ends when the placenta is delivered. If your baby is healthy and crying and/or screaming your provider may cut the umbilical cord (or have you do it) or they may offer delayed cord clamping. Either way, healthy babies are usually put skin-to-skin on the mother's chest to facilitate bonding and encourage breast-milk production while sicker infants may be assessed by a nurse or physician as they transition to their new life outside the womb.
Sometimes the placenta delivers without any assistance, but often your medical provider actively assists the delivery of the placenta so that they can then help stop the uterus from bleeding and/or repair any tears that may have occurred.
After the third stage of labor, mothers and healthy babies must focus on bonding and they may start to breastfeed if they want.