The experience of Labor and Birth can vary greatly from person to person, but we can generally describe the process through 3 stages of labor and phases within each stage.
Stage One consists of three phases: Early, Active, and Transition
In stage one, the cervix which is the mouth of the uterus, gradually moves forward (if it hasn't already), thins (effacement), and opens (dilation). Through the process of the cervix opening, muscle collects at the top of the uterus to prepare for pushing. Each contraction of the uterus is effectively doing this work.
In Early Labor, the cervix is usually doing more thinning than opening, and contractions can be pretty far apart and inconsistent. In fact, sometimes early labor can happen on and off for days or even weeks. Your baby’s position may influence what your early labor looks like.
In active labor, birthing parents are having to work very actively with their contractions. Most birthing parents will become more internally focused and less willing to engage with others. Click here to read about the Nona Method for Coping with Contractions.
In Active Labor, contractions become longer, stronger, closer together, and often more consistent.
As Stage One is almost complete, contractions become very close together and more intense. This is often referred to as the Transition Phase and indicates the transition from Stage One to Stage Two of labor.
Stage Two consists of Pushing and the Birth of your Baby
Stage two begins at the point in which your cervix has opened to 10 centimeters dilation. Some women will feel the urge to push right away while others will get a break while their uterus prepares for the pushing phase or until baby moves lower. There is typically no need to push until you feel the urge which is called ‘laboring down’ and can save a lot of energy.
Generally, being in an upright and active position will make pushing more effective and will reduce the risk of tearing.
If you have to lie down for some medical concern, consider lying on your side with someone holding your top leg instead of on your back.
Stage Three consists of the Delivery of the Placenta
The delivery of the placenta can happen anytime between 3-30 minutes after your baby is born. However, it is more typical for placentas to deliver at between 5-10 minutes. Some birthing parents will feel intense contractions for the delivery of their placenta while others feel very little.
Throughout the whole process, your baby is also very active in attempting to find the most optimal position for birth. The more active you are the more opportunity you’re giving your baby to find the best position and the more comfortable you will be.
Watch for more posts about the different phases and stages and tips for how to move through them. You can also learn more in our childbirth education classes.