The Normal Progression of Labor

How Labor is Broken Down

Woman laboring in water
Photo © myrrha/Getty Images

Labor is usually something that we talk about in hushed tones or with an air of mystery. The truth is we know a lot about labor and the process of giving birth. Most people don't learn about these facts unless they go to a childbirth class. A good childbirth class will cover, not only the normal progression of labor and the stages of labor, but also how to cope with each stage and what might be going on emotionally, physically, and mentally.

This includes a robust discussion of how your partner, friends, and doula can help you.

First Stage

This begins when you start to have regular contractions that increase in frequency and intensity. Make sure you know how to time contractions. Usually you will start off slowly, nearly always questioning if this is really labor. Bear in mind that a lot of women have wandered around for a bit feeling like they had the flu or were just really sleepy. The contractions will then pick up and you will be in the active phase of the first stage of labor. Contractions are more intense and come more frequently, usually requiring more of your attention. Somewhere between this active phase and the next phase, transition, you will change to your place of birth. Transition is the short but hard part of labor. Transition has contractions coming very close together, but they never actually feel any stronger than the contractions of the active phase.

At the end of transition you will be completely dilated!

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Second Stage

This is the fun part! You begin this stage completely dilated! You will begin pushing your baby into this world. Most women really enjoy the pushing stage, they say that they feel more actively involved.

Your contractions will get further apart and feel differently. If you have been unmedicated you will feel the urge to push. If you have been medicated you may or may not feel the urge to push and will be directed at how to proceed. If there is an episiotomy done, it will be done at the end of this stage. There is quite a debate about the need and use of episiotomies on a routine basis. The end of the second stage will be marked by the birth of your baby!

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Third Stage

This is the anticlimax! You are holding your lovely baby and anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour later they will want you to give a few small pushes to get the placenta out. Most women are so wrapped up in their babies that they always say, "I forgot about the placenta!" Nursing your baby right away will help speed up a third stage or control any bleeding that you are having.

Birth Plans

There is a lot to take in when thinking about how labor goes. You may have also had some thoughts about what your preferences are for how you cope with labor and what you would like to do during certain portions. This is typically covered in a birth plan

A birth plan isn't something that works like a contract, but more like a communication tool.

This is something that you use to open a discussion between you, your partner, your provider, and others on your birth team. You can use the stages of labor to break down your preferences. Don't forget to include what your preferences are after the birth of your baby.