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This topic provides basic
information about normal labor and delivery. If
you need information on pregnancy, other types of childbirth, or the first 6 weeks after childbirth (postpartum), see the
At the end of the
trimester of pregnancy, your body will begin to show
signs that it is time for your baby to be born. The process that leads to the
birth of your baby is called labor and delivery. Every labor and delivery
includes certain stages, but each birth is unique. Even if you have had a baby
before, the next time will be different.
Giving birth to a baby
is hard work. It can also be scary, thrilling,
and unpredictable. Learning all you can ahead of time will help you be ready
when your time comes.
What are the stages of labor?
There are three
stages of labor. The first stage includes early labor and active
labor. The second stage lasts through the birth,
with the baby traveling down and out of the birth canal. The third stage is
after the birth, when the placenta is delivered.
Stage one. The muscles of the uterus start to tighten (contract) and then relax. These contractions help to thin (efface) and open (dilate) the cervix so the baby can pass through the birth canal. (See a picture of cervical effacement .)
- Stage one has three phases:
- Early. Early contractions are usually irregular, and they usually last less than a minute. The early phase of labor can be uncomfortable and may last from a few hours to days.
- Active. Contractions become strong and regular and last about a minute. This is the time to go to the hospital or birthing center. The pain of contractions may be moderate or intense.
- Transition. The cervix will open completely. If there are no problems, the baby should be in position to be born.
Stage two. The cervix is dilated completely and the baby is born.
Stage three. This stage occurs after the baby is born. You have contractions until the placenta is delivered.
Having a support person, trying different positions, or using
breathing exercises may help you cope with labor pain. You also can listen to music or use imagery to distract you and help you relax. Some women labor in water or take a shower.
Many women ask for pain medicine, such as an epidural injection, which partially or fully numbs the lower
body. Even if you plan to not use pain medicine (natural childbirth), it can be comforting to know
that you can get pain relief if you want it.
How can you prepare for labor and delivery?