Stages of Childbirth

Going through the birth of your child is a wonderful and unique experience. No two deliveries are alike and there is no way to tell how your delivery is going to be. What we can tell you is the stages you will go through during this process and what you can generally expect.

Each phase is full of different emotions and physical challenges. It is one big adventure you are about to take and we would like to give you a guide for it.

Childbirth can be broken into three stages:

  • First stage: Begins from the onset of true labor and lasts until the cervix is completely dilated to 10 cm.
  • Second stage: Continues after the cervix is dilated to 10 cm until the delivery of your baby.
  • Third stage: Delivery of your placenta.

First Stage

The first stage is the longest and is broken down into three phases:

  1. Early labor phase: Starts from the onset of labor until the cervix is dilated to 3 cm.
  2. Active labor phase: Continues until the cervix is dilated to 7 cm.
  3. Transition phase: Continues until the cervix is fully dilated to 10 cm.

Early Labor Phase

What to do:

During this phase you should just relax. It is not necessary for you to rush to the hospital. It might be nicer for you to spend this time at home, in familiar territory. If it is during the day you should do daily simple routines around the house. Keep yourself occupied but still conserve some of your energy. Drink plenty of water and eat small snacks. Keep track of the time of your contractions.

If it is during the night it is a good idea to try and get some sleep. If you can't fall asleep, do things that will distract you like cleaning out your closet, packing your bag, or making sack lunches for the next day.

What to expect:

  • Duration will last about 8-12 hours
  • Your cervix will efface and dilate to 3 cm
  • Contractions will last about 30-45 seconds, giving you 5-30 minutes of rest in between contractions
  • Contractions are typically mild, somewhat irregular, but progressively stronger and closer together
  • Contractions may feel like aching in your lower back, menstrual cramps, and pressure or tightening in the pelvis area
  • Your water will break; also known as amniotic sac rupture (this can happen any time within the first stage)

When monitoring contractions observe the following:

  • Growing more intense
  • Following a regular pattern
  • Lasting longer
  • Becoming closer together

If/when your water breaks (amniotic sac ruptures) note the following:

  • Color of fluid
  • Odor of fluid
  • Time rupture occurred

Tips for the support person:

  • Practice timing contractions
  • Be a calming influence
  • Offer comfort, reassurance, and support
  • Suggest activities that will distract her
  • Keep up your own strength, you will need it!
  • If you can not be with her during this early phase, simply do these things on the phone.
  • Don't feel bad if you are not there. If the contractions are fairly far apart then you have plenty of time.

Active Labor Phase

What to do:
It is about time for you to head to the hospital. Your contractions will be stronger, longer and closer together. It is very important that you have all the support you can get. Now is also a good time for you to start your breathing techniques and try some relaxation exercises for you to use in between contractions. You should switch positions often during this time. You may want to try walking or taking a nice bath. Continue to drink water if your doctor allows you to. If you feel like you need some pain relief such as an epidural or analgesic, just ask. Remember to urinate periodically.

What to expect:

  • Duration will last about 3-5 hours
  • Your cervix will dilate from 3cm to 7cm
  • Contractions during this phase will last about 45-60 seconds with 3-5 minutes rest in between
  • Contractions will feel stronger and longer
  • This is usually the time that you head to the hospital

Tips for the support person: