The Stages of Labor

Posted On: January 26, 2021 By CIW

If you’re expecting a baby, it’s important to understand what you can probably expect during labor and delivery. During a “normal labor,” contractions of the uterus cause the cervix to thin, shorten, and dilate before ultimately, the baby is delivered. In a normal pregnancy, this occurs sometime between weeks 37 and 42.

OB/GYNs break down four stages of labor, which occur over the course of between 6 and 18 hours on average. Here are some of the basic signs and symptoms you can expect through the four stages of labor.


First Stage of Labor

The first stage of labor involves the thinning and opening of the cervix, which OB/GYNs refer to as effacement and dilation. This first stage can last anywhere from 7-13 hours, depending on factors including whether this is your first baby. Most women experience this stage both at home and, later, at the hospital, and it can be broken down into three sections.

Early Labor

During early labor, the cervix dilates to four centimeters. This stage is typically spent at home, with contractions that you should be able to talk through. During early labor, you can go through your normal routine, eat light meals, drink clear fluids, or rest. Be sure to keep track of your contractions through this phase so you know when it’s time to head to the hospital.

Active Labor

Active labor usually begins when you can no longer talk during contractions, which occur every 3-4 minutes and last about 60 seconds each. During active labor, you should head to the hospital. Your water may break, and the cervix will dilate more quickly during this portion of labor. It typically occurs after you’ve reached 5-6 centimeters

Transition to Second Stage

The period when the cervix opens to 7-10 centimeters is typically the most difficult or painful. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, irritated, sweaty, or sick during this transition stage.


Second Stage of Labor

By the second stage of labor, the cervix has completely dilated to 10 centimeters. During the second stage, contractions will push the baby down the birth canal, and you will be asked to push. The second stage of labor ends with the birth of the baby.


Third Stage of Labor

The third stage is the afterbirth stage. Following the birth of the baby, the uterus continues to contract to push out the placenta. The placenta is usually delivered about 5-15 minutes after the baby.


Fourth Stage of Labor

The final stage of labor is recovery. Most babies will nurse minutes after birth, but others will wait longer. Aside from nursing the baby, you can rest and recover during this fourth stage.


Schedule an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with an OB/GYN, call either our Carnegie South or Carnegie Hill offices or request an appointment online.



“The Four Stages of Labor”

“Management of Normal Labor” Raul Artal-Mittelmark, MD,

Carnegie Imaging for Women blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!

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