The process of having a baby occurs in several stages over many hours or even a few days—from early labor through delivering the baby and the placenta. During labor, contractions in your uterus open your cervix and move the baby into position to be born.
Stage one: Early, active, and transition
Early labor is often the longest part of the
birthing process, sometimes lasting 2 to 3 days. Uterine contractions:
- Are mild to moderate (you can talk while they
are happening) and last about 30 to 45 seconds.
- May be irregular (5
to 20 minutes apart) and may even stop for a while.
- Open (dilate)
cervix to about
3 cm (1 in.). First-time
mothers can have many hours of early labor without the cervix dilating.
It's common for women to go to the hospital during early
labor and be sent home again until they are in active labor or until their
"water" breaks (rupture of the membranes). This phase of labor can be long and
The active stage of
labor starts when the cervix is about
3 cm (1.2 in.) to
4 cm (1.6 in.) dilated. This
stage is complete when the cervix is fully
effaced and dilated and the baby is ready to be pushed
Compared with early labor, the
contractions during active labor are more intense and more
frequent (every 2 to 3 minutes) and longer-lasting (50 to 70 seconds). Now is
the time to be at or go to the hospital or birthing center. If your
amniotic sac hasn't broken before this, it may now.
As your contractions get stronger, you may:
- Feel restless or excited.
- Find it
hard to stand up.
- Not be allowed to eat or drink. Some
hospitals let you drink clear liquids. Others may only allow you to
suck on ice chips or hard candy.
- Want to start using
breathing techniques or other ways to control pain and anxiety.
- Feel the need to shift positions often. This is good for you,
because it improves your circulation.
- Want pain medicine, such as
- Be given
intravenous (IV) fluids.
To learn more about pain medicine, see
The end of active labor is called the transition phase. As the baby moves down, your
contractions become more intense and longer and come even closer together.
When you reach transition, your delivery isn't far off. During
transition, you will be self-absorbed, concentrating on what your body is
doing. You may be annoyed or distracted by others' attempts to help you but still feel you need them nearby as a support. You may feel increasingly
anxious, nauseated, exhausted, irritable, or frightened.
in first-time labor will take up to 3 hours in transition, and a mother who has
vaginally delivered before will usually take no more than an hour. Some women
have a very short, if intense, transition phase.