A Incredibly Simple Explanation of The Four Stages of Labor

September 14, 2018

Each stage of labor has a starting and ending point. The first stage usually begins with regular contractions, and your cervix starts to thin and dilate. The second stage of labor is the dreaded pushing phase and ends with your sweet peanut's birth. The third stage of labor begins after the birth of the baby and ends when the placenta is out.

stages of labor

Why I am here and who I am:

Hey mama, I am Trish— AKA Labor Nurse Mama. I am a labor and delivery nurse with over 15 years of high-risk OB experience. I am also a mama to 7 kids and have given birth to 6. This means I am quite familiar with the postpartum period and how to navigate it. I am the online birth class educator for Calm Labor Confident Birth and The VBAC Lab birth classes and the mama expert inside our Calm Mama Society a pregnancy & postpartum membership community! I am passionate about your birth and motherhood journey! You can find me over on IG teaching over 230k mamas daily. I am passionate about your birth and motherhood journey!

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The first stage of labor

The first stage of labor is broken down into three phases. Let's talk about each one.

Early Labor

Girl this is a long phase of labor. It can last anywhere from 8-12 hours, depending on your body. If you have it in your mind that it won't be long, get rid of that thought. Wait, unless you've had a baby, in that case, the path has been paved, and you might breeze through early labor.

Early Labor is 0-4cm. This stage is an interesting one. If you are going natural and not induced, the majority of this stage will happen while you wonder what's happening. What I mean is that you may be thinking, "Am I?", "Nah," "Maybe, I'm in labor," "Nah" This is the stage of walking around, getting crap done at home, and thinking maybe I should call the doctor.

Related post: Real labor: Should you go to the hospital now?

For an induced mama, the first stage of labor is long and tedious. It feels unending and like nothing is happening. Being tied down to a bed, which is what happens in most inductions, is very difficult. The first stage of labor experienced in a hospital bed is mental, emotionally and physically exhausting. You might become discouraged, but remember that if you were at home most of this first stage of labor, you wouldn't have noticed. It's normal for it to take a while to get through this stage of labor if your body is being forced.

The active phase

This phase, for the most part, is pretty darn predictable. FOR THE MOST PART. So don't hold me responsible if you go slower or faster than what I'm saying.

Typically once you hit 5cm, you will progress about a cm an hour. TYPICALLY.

The active phase of the first stage of labor is 6cm (according to ACOG it is now 6 Cm) to 8 cm.

This part is when you will need your pain management plan. Do not rely solely on an epidural, it is not always guaranteed. Check out my purposeful positioning course, it is the perfect addition to a full birth course. It includes pain management and coping. Use LABORQUEEN40 for 40% off!

Pain tolerance is needed to have made it this far without getting an epidural. If you haven't prepared or made a solid alliance with an unmedicated birth, you will most likely cave now and get an epidural.

If you have not had your water broken, this is the stage it will most likely break. It's indeed a relief of pressure if you are natural. If you already have an epidural, you won't know the difference.

This stage is hard. I won't lie. It's exhausting. But you can do it. I promise. Keep moving around. Drink plenty of fluids. Continue to breathe deep breaths profoundly getting air to your little pumpkin. Have someone learn this phrase to use during your contractions, ", stop and take a deep breath, breathe in and get air to _, breath out. Now breathe in and out, slowly."

Remember each contraction is a small battle. It will end.

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The Transition Phase

Ok, prepare yourself cause this one is a doozy. It's the stage where all hell breaks loose, and you want to freak, the freak out. Well, if you are an unmedicated patient that is.

Epidural patients may start shaking as the hormones are released. Don't forget that even though you aren't always aware of it, your body is working super hard.

Unmedicated patients during this stage a mama may have moments of near breakdown. You will say "I can't do it" Read this "Do you want to have an unmedicated birth?"

Signs of the transition phase

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • chills
  • hot flashes
  • shaking
  • emotional breakdown
  • anger
  • aggravation
  • behavioral changes
  • exorcist moments

The second stage of labor

This stage if labor starts when you are 10 cm dilated and ends with the birth of the baby.

This is the stage where you might experience the dreaded ring of fire.

If I can give you one piece of advice for this stage of labor, it is this: Don't quit pushing during the intense burning. You will want to, but it's the one way to prolong the burn. If you push through it, you will make it end. It's contrary to our way of thinking. Our brain says, "Damn, that hurts, stop doing it" but that is the primary way you will fail to move past it. Have someone consistently say to you, push through the burn.

Most likely with or without an epidural, you will feel an urge to push. If you are natural, come hell or high water, you can't resist it. Depending on the level of a block you have from your epidural, will determine if you can withstand it.

The pressure you feel in your booty, during this stage of labor, is mind-boggling. You feel like a human is coming OUT OF YOUR BUTT. This is the number one sign that you are in this stage. That sweet little head, you will soon kiss, is pushing itself on your rectum and that's no fun. You are about to experience the biggest poop ever. A baby poop!

The third stage of labor

This is it girly, the last stage of actual labor. This is from the birth of the baby until the delivery of the placenta. This stage is typically the shortest stage of labor, lasting anywhere from 5-30 minutes. You might feel cramping right before you deliver the placenta. The placenta coming out does not hurt. It's a blob that slides out with a minimal push.

The fourth stage of labor

Finally, this is the postpartum stage. The immediate postpartum stage lasts for two hours after birth. This is the stage when we watch you for postpartum bleeding issues. Most likely in a hospital setting, you will receive a bag of Pitocin through your IV. Typically, you will stay in the labor and delivery department at this stage. If you have had an epidural, we will wait until your legs are not numb, get you up to the bathroom, and clean you, before moving you to postpartum. For an unmedicated momma, we do that sooner, but still, take you over to postpartum around two hours post-birth.

If it's your first baby, you may feel slight cramp like contractions. However, the more babies you have given birth to, the more after-contractions you will experience. It's no fun. Ask for ibuprofen and take it around the clock. Most often, the after contractions for a momma who has had a few babies can be very difficult. Think period cramps at the onset of your menstrual cycle. Hell.

Remember the postpartum stage is the first year of your motherhood. Be prepared, this is the best way to combat emotional strain. Check out my postpartum field guide!

Related post: 6 signs of labor according to a labor nurse

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Just a little Disclaimer: As always, I am just writing my thoughts and what I’ve learned along the way. Although I am a labor and delivery RN, This is not medical advice. You should always seek and follow the advice of your care provider. 

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A Incredibly Simple Explanation of The Four Stages of Labor
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