Understanding the Process of Labor and Delivery

Dr. Paul MacKoul, MD

March 16, 2023

The labor and delivery process can feel confusing and overwhelming to expectant parents. Understanding the three stages of labor and how long each stage may last can help you feel more in control.

The first phase of labor begins when contractions dilate (open) and efface (thin) the cervix, which is the connection between your uterus and vagina.

Stage One

The first stage of labor begins when your cervix starts to open and thin out (efface). This helps your baby move down the birth canal and into the vagina. During this phase, you may experience discharge from your vagina that is clear or slightly bloody. This is normal.

This is also the time when your contractions become more frequent. They are usually about every two to three minutes. Your provider will monitor your progress throughout this phase. They will check to see how well your cervix is dilated.

Once your cervix is fully dilated, you will feel pressure from the uterus as your baby descends. delivery process might also have nausea or vomiting. During this stage, your provider will encourage you to bear down actively. This will help you release the placenta.

Stage Two

During this stage, you will begin feeling the urge to push. It’s important to listen to your body and follow your practitioner’s instructions on how to push.

This stage of labor usually lasts about 2 hours. The contractions will get stronger and more frequent. They will happen every two to three minutes and last about 60 seconds.

Nausea and vomiting are also common during this time. You may need to take pain medications or opt for an epidural to help you cope with the discomfort.

The second stage of labor ends when your baby is born. You’ll have to work hard to push your baby out of your body and through the birth canal. This can be a difficult stage, especially for women with first-time babies.

Stage Three

Stage Three is the final phase of labor and delivery process. It starts when your cervix is fully dilated, and you’re ready to push. Depending on your circumstances, this phase can last up to an hour or longer.

During this phase, contractions can be mild and less intense than during labor’s first or second stages. They are shorter (60 to 90 seconds) and occur every two or three minutes.

Your uterus contracts during early labor to shorten and soften the cervix, which allows it to dilate and efface. It’s also easier for the uterus to squeeze down on your baby as it descends into your birth canal.

Early labor contracts become stronger and more frequent, spaced about five minutes apart as you progress to active labor. They may start to become more painful as your cervix begins to open even further.

Stage Four

In this stage, the cervix dilates and effaces to about 4 to 6 centimeters, and contractions gradually intensify over time. They generally last 30 to 45 seconds and can be regular or irregular, spaced up to about 20 minutes apart at first, then increasing in frequency and intensity to about five minutes apart.

This phase is the shortest of the three and is usually over within an hour or two after the baby is born. The woman needs to get plenty of rest between contractions because she may feel her body working harder than it did during earlier stages of labor.

This is a good time for your care team to check your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. They may also massage your uterus to help your cervix contract and slow bleeding.