Stages of Labor and Delivery and How to Navigate Them

What are the Stages of Labor and Delivery?

As you move through pregnancy, there are many milestones you will meet and then move onto the next one. The stages of labor and delivery can be thought of as a series of milestones, and there is a pretty typical pattern that most will follow through labor and delivery.

There are many things that happen to initiate labor in the body. In this post, we’ll explore what the stages of labor and delivery are and how to navigate them.

pregnant woman on ball

Stage 1 Prelabor:

Prelabor or early labor occurs when you start to notice contractions. During prelabor, these contractions are lasting up to 15 seconds and are coming 10-30 minutes apart. Typically, these early contractions happen with at least one of the following:

  • Bloody mucus vaginal discharge
  • Rupture of membranes (water breaks)
  • Or complete cervical effacement (you won’t be able to tell this one, but your doctor could)

What to do during Prelabor?

  • Relaxing Activities
    • go for a walk
    • relax in a tub
    • play games
    • prepare meals
    • go to a movie
  • Position Considerations
  1. Sitting with the knees open and hips at more than a 90 degree angle
  2. Standing forward lean
  3. Semi-reclined position leaning backward

Stage 1 Active Labor:

During active labor, the cervix dilates from 3cm up to 8cm. The contractions last up to 45 seconds and come 5 to 10 minutes apart. The average length of stage 1 labor is 5 hours for women who are having their first baby.

What to do during active labor?

  • Movements/ activities to consider
    • Lean forward over a therapy ball, table, or sink while standing
    • Squatting with support
    • Resting in a warm bath
  • Positions to consider

The following positions could help rotate the baby to prepare for birth:

  • Knee-to-chest position
  • Quadruped position
  • Pelvic Rock

Walking and movement are still highly encouraged during this stage if able.

  • Pain Relief/ Management
    • Ice and heat as needed
    • Abdominal/ Back massage
    • Breathing Exercises
    • TENS unit (such as this one below)
  • Epidural or pain medication through the medical team may be used at this point

Stage 1 Transition:

During this stage of labor, the cervix will dilate 8 to 10cm. Contractions will last for around 90 seconds and occur every 1-2 minutes. This is the stage where you should feel a spontaneous urge to push once you’re fully dilated. An epidural could dampen this, but in my experience with an epidural (personally), I still felt a STRONG urge to push!

  • Pain Relief/ management
    • Heat
    • Counterpressure at the hips, low back, sacrum
    • TENS
    • Massage

Stage 2 of Labor- Delivery:

The second stage of labor includes complete dilation of the cervix and the birth of your baby! For first time moms, this stage usually lasts 1-2 hours. There are a variety of positions for delivery and the pros and cons for each, but we’ll save that for another article. For a brief idea of positions you can deliver your baby in, here’s a non-exhaustive list:

  • Hands and knees
  • Laying on your side
  • On your back (traditional)
  • Squatting

Stage 3 of Labor- Afterbirth:

The last phase of labor is afterbirth. This occurs after your baby is born. The placenta, amniotic sac, and umbilical cord are delivered. This should happen within 1 hour of your baby being born. Breastfeeding immediately after birth releases hormones that will stimulate this process.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I may receive a small commission for that product at no extra cost to you. All opinions are my own.

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