Labor & Delivery

What Are The Stages Of Labor?

I keep hearing about the stages of labor. What are they?

The stages of labor describe the sequence of events that happens during labor and birth. There are three stages of labor:

• Stage One is what most women think of when they think “labor.” It’s the time when uterine contractions cause the cervix to open up and dilate. Stage one lasts from the time your contractions become regular and productive (meaning that they cause cervical changes) until your cervix is fully dilated to around 10 centimeters. Stage one is the longest stage of labor — for much of it, you might actually be home waiting for your labor to progress before heading to the hospital (many docs tell you not to go until your contractions are five or fewer minutes apart, but check with your doc to see what she recommends). It’s not uncommon for stage one to last 18 to 20 hours in first-time moms.

• Stage Two is the pushing stage. It officially lasts from the time you’re fully dilated until the time your baby is born. For some women, especially mothers who have birthed before, the second stage of labor my only last a few minutes. For others, it can take a few hours.

• Stage Three is the shortest stage of labor. It lasts from your baby’s birth (nope, you’re not done) until the delivery of the placenta. Your uterus continues to contract even after your baby is born. (Don’t worry — these contractions don’t usually hurt!) Those post-baby contractions cause the placenta to separate from the uterus and leave the body. Stage three usually takes less than half an hour.

Plus, more from The Bump:

Do I Need a Birth Plan?

Shocking Confessions from the Delivery Room

What Are the Signs of Labor?

By Sharon Phelan, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico - Albuquerque