September 20, 2023

Stages of Labor

Did you know that labor isn’t over after the delivery of your baby? That's right, labor actually ends with the delivery of the placenta. There are four physical stages of labor, and some emotional stages that go along with them. Let’s talk about what those stages are, how they will look, and how you could be feeling during each stage. 

Early Labor

Labor begins with consistent contractions that become stronger in intensity and frequency. Early labor is usually the longest stage because this is the stage that softens, dilates, and thins your cervix. For most women these contractions are easy to get through, though they may be somewhat uncomfortable, they shouldn’t require too much attention to get past the peak of each contraction. As your labor progresses and you approach transition into active labor, your contractions will become more frequent and may demand more of your focus. 

While in early labor, you may be feeling energetic from all the excitement, but it’s very important that you try to rest as much as you can. Be sure to eat as much as you need, make arrangements for someone to watch your older children if you have them, and take the time to rest and relax. By rest, we don’t mean sleep, we mean enjoying the act of doing nothing. Don’t worry about trying to work your baby down your pelvis or getting things moving, you can do that during active labor. During early labor you should be conserving your energy because you will need it later on. 

This is what early labor looks like-

  • Excitement
  • Very chatty and joking around
  • Moving through contractions without difficulty
  • Still able to do most things like eat, walk around without assistance, and talk through contractions 

Active Labor

At some point during labor your easy-going and carefree manner will turn a bit more serious and you will need to direct your attention inward to stay on top of the contractions. This point in labor is called active labor when the cervix is around 6 or 7 cm dilated. 

While in active labor, you may feel the need to move around and change positions to get comfortable. Turn to your partner and midwives for support both physically and mentally. Remember to breathe your baby down and soften your muscles to allow your uterus to do the work. Of course, this is easier said than done, but if you are able to relax your body, you will have a much easier time during labor than if you were to tense up and fight against it. Many women who have unmedicated births take advantage of the use of water by standing under the running water in the shower or relaxing in the tub.

Towards the end of active labor, you will go through a transition where your contractions seem to ease up slightly, then pick right back up with a little stronger intensity and may feel like the contractions are right on top of each other. At this time, many women feel doubtful in their ability to give birth, but you can and you will. Remind yourself that this pain is only temporary and once it’s over you will feel absolute bliss. Once you feel the urge to push, let your midwives know and with that, you arrive at the next stage of labor: the birth of the baby.

Active Labor looks like-

  • Takes on a more serious disposition
  • Has a harder time talking through contractions
  • Moves around and changes position often
  • May begin to moan through contractions
  • May become nauseas
  • Feeling doubtful

Birth of the Baby

After your cervix has fully dilated, you may feel the urge to push or your midwives might ask you to start pushing. The pushing stage is different for every woman and every pregnancy in how long it may take. Try different positions until you find one that works for you, then bear down when a contraction comes. When your baby’s head begins to crown, you may feel a burning sensation surrounding the vagina, this is called the ring of fire, and the only way out is through.

At some point, your midwives may ask you to do small, gentle pushes or to resist the urge to push for just a short moment, this is to allow the vaginal tissue to stretch to accommodate your baby to pass through with less risk of tearing. For many women, pushing comes as a relief and takes off some of the pressure from the contractions. Once you have successfully birthed your baby’s head, the rest of their body will follow shortly after, and the midwives will place your baby on your chest for skin-to-skin as long as they don’t need to clear the baby’s airway. This brings us to the next and final stage of labor- birthing the placenta. 

Birthing the baby will look like-

  • Loud moaning through contractions
  • Possibly grouchy and short-tempered
  • May get comfort from the act of pushing

Birth of the Placenta

Most women find immediate relief once the baby is out, but you’re not quite done. The good news is that birthing the placenta is a breeze in comparison. The placenta will need a little bit of time to detach from the walls of your uterus and can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. After the placenta has been delivered, you will continue to feel small contractions that will help shrink your uterus. These contractions will be less noticeable though as your attention will likely be on your new baby. With the placenta out, you can do a delayed cord clamping and, if your baby is hungry, you can try breastfeeding. You may notice an influx in contractions while breastfeeding due to the release of oxytocin triggering the uterus to contract. 

Birthing the placenta will look like-

  • Small pushes to deliver the placenta
  • In awe of the baby you made
  • Family bonding

To learn more about labor, contact our midwives today!

Dakota Collins
Dakota Collins is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mother of two precious little girls who is passionate about freedom in pregnancy and childbirth.
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