The stages of labour

With your new baby on his way, here's a detailed guide of what to expect when it's time to give birth.

Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Stage 1: Active labour
Contractions become stronger, longer and closer together. The cervix is definitely dilating now, at a rate of about one centimetre per hour. From four centimetres onward, you’re in active labour.

Read more: Birth plan checklist >

Stage 2: Transition
For many women, this is the toughest part of childbirth. Contractions are one on top of the other as your cervix dilates to 10 centimetres. You may feel you can no longer cope, or even start vomiting or trembling (especially in your legs). It’s also normal to feel flushed, overwhelmed and panicky. Thankfully, transition is usually the shortest stage of labour.

Read more: Should you have an epidural? >

Stage 3: The pushing stage
When the cervix is fully dilated, and the baby’s head has descended, you’re ready to push. Most women feel a strong urge to push that can almost be impossible to resist, coming in several surges through each contraction. Each push moves the baby a little bit forward, but when the contraction ends, the baby slides back. When the baby’s head crowns at the entrance of the vagina, you’ll feel a burning sensation as the skin stretches. With another contraction or two, the head will emerge. Once the shoulders are out, the rest of the baby usually slips out quickly. Your baby is here!

Stage 4: The final stage
Even after your baby is born, your labour isn’t quite over. The umbilical cord will be clamped and cut. You’ll experience a few more contractions as you deliver the placenta.

Read more: Strategies for an easier labour >

A version of this article appeared in our Spring/Summer 2013 Pregnancy Baby book with the headline “The Stages of Labour,” pp. 51.

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