What are the Stages of Labor? First, Second, and Third Stages Explained

After labor is over, it's time to adore your new baby! Image by iferrero

After labor is over, it’s time to adore your new baby! Image by iferrero

So you’re trying to get prepared in advance for what’s going to happen when you finally have that baby? Labor breaks down into three main phases: First stage labor, which is the longest part of the process; second stage labor, which is when the mother pushes the baby out; and third stage labor, which is when mom delivers the placenta. See? It’s not really all that complicated.

First Stage Labor

First stage labor includes early labor, active labor, and transition. During the first stage of labor, the cervix, or opening of the uterus, thins (effaces) and opens (dilates) to allow the baby to come through. During this first part of labor, a mother’s emotions may go from anticipation to relief, apprehension to moodiness, and then to seriousness as her body works harder to get the baby in position for birthing.

The first stage is the longest-lasting stage of labor, and is an average of 15-17 hours for the first time mother. However, since the labor process is different for each woman and each birth itself is unique, some women experience a First-Stage of labor that lasts anywhere from 1 hour to 48 hours. The range of what is ‘normal’ is very wide.

Second Stage Labor

Second stage labor is the pushing stage when the baby moves through the birth canal and is born. Many women get a second wind for this stage, and are excited to finally be able to “do” something active in the birth process. Other mothers may feel overwhelmed because the urge to push is often an involuntary thing the body does automatically.

Second stage labor lasts for about one hour for first time mothers but, as with most stages of labor, there is a wide variety of normal that is acceptable. Sometimes moms have very quick labors and only push for a couple contractions, while other births have longer second stages that can last up to 3 hours or more.


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Third Stage Labor

Sometimes this last stage of labor seems an afterthought for the happy parents who are welcoming their newborn child into the world, but it is an important part of the birth process. During the third stage of labor, the placenta separates from the uterus and mom delivers it. Third stage labor generally lasts between 15-45 minutes. Mothers are usually focused on holding and stroking their babies at this point, and many mothers are able to begin immediate breastfeeding during third stage labor, which helps the uterus release the placenta.

Labor and Childbirth

Your body moves through the stages of labor and delivery naturally, so don’t worry that you won’t know what to do. Choose a caring and competent caregiver, and plan in advance to have a supportive birth team, and you’ll have an easier time when you’re having your baby, regardless of the birthing method you choose, or whether you ever even went to class!

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