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labor & delivery

Phases of labor

Labor has four stages

Labor has four stages; the longest is Stage 1, which can be broken down into three phases – Early, Active and Transition – before you progress to Stage 2.

Find out what happens to your body, what you can do, and what your partner can do before labor begins and during each stage of labor.

Before labor begins

What happens to your bodyHelpful hints for youWhat your partner can do
  • Increase in Braxton Hicks contractions
  • Cervix softens, thins, dilation may begin
  • Burst of energy (nesting instinct)
  • Sleep more lightly
  • Do light activities
  • Pre-register at hospital
  • Pack bags for hospital
  • Rest, take naps
  • Encourage rest and light activities
  • Provide diversion such as movies, TV, games or walk
  • Provide reassurance
  • Help pack for the hospital

Stage 1
Early phase

What happens to your bodyHelpful hints for youWhat your partner can do
  • Cervix softens, thins, dilates 1 to 4 cm
  • Contractions may be 30 to 60 seconds long and 5 to 20 minutes apart; become longer, stronger, more frequent as time goes on
  • Bloody show
  • Possible water break or leak
  • Possible frequent bowel movements
  • Possible low back ache
  • If it's night, try to sleep
  • If it's day, do light activities or walk
  • Time contractions
  • Drink clear liquids (water, tea)
  • Empty bladder every hour
  • Relax with contractions
  • Begin breathing techniques as needed
  • Call doctor as directed
  • Go to hospital if directed by doctor
  • If at night, encourage her to sleep. Try to sleep yourself
  • Time and record contractions
  • Provide diversion, walks, games, movie, TV
  • Help her relax
  • Remind her to urinate often
  • Help make her comfortable with a back rub, massage, warm shower
  • Drive carefully to the hospital

Stage 1
Active phase

What happens to your bodyHelpful hints for youWhat your partner can do
  • Cervix continues thinning, dilates 4 to 8 cm
  • Contractions may be 40 to 80 seconds long and 2 to 4 minutes apart; become more intense, closer together, longer peak
  • Possible water break or leak
  • Go to hospital as directed by doctor
  • Use relaxation and breathing techniques
  • Use focal point
  • Change positions as needed
  • Relax
  • Comfort measures for lips/mouth: lip balm, ice chips, Popsicle®, mouth wash, brush teeth
  • Drive carefully to the hospital
  • Help her with relaxation and breathing techniques
  • Help her change positions or provide support if she's walking
  • Give praise, reassurance and encouragement
  • Provide comfort measures: cool cloth, ice chips, massage
  • If needed, help with comfort measures for back labor
  • Remind her to urinate

Stage 1
Transition phase

What happens to your bodyHelpful hints for youWhat your partner can do
  • Cervix dilates to 8 to 10 cm
  • Contractions may be 60 to 90 seconds long and 2 to 3 minutes apart; become very strong, may have more than one peak
  • Rectal pressure, urge to push
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Hiccups
  • Cramps in legs and thighs
  • Increase in bloody show
  • Uncontrolled shaking
  • Cold feet
  • Drowsiness between contractions
  • This phase can be very intense but short
  • Take it one contraction at a time
  • Continue to use relaxation and breathing techniques; change techniques as needed
  • Pant to avoid pushing
  • Watch for signs of transition
  • Continue praise and encouragement
  • Help with breathing and relaxation techniques; breathe with her if necessary to help her
  • Keep directions simple
  • Provide comfort measures
  • Keep her informed of progress
  • Do not leave her alone

Stage 2

What happens to your bodyHelpful hints for youWhat your partner can do
  • Cervix is completely dilated
  • Contractions may be 60 seconds or longer and 2 to 5 minutes apart
  • Baby descends through the birth canal
  • Strong urge to push, pressure in vagina and rectum
  • Burning sensation as head crowns
  • Birth of baby
  • Relax perineum, pelvic muscles
  • Rest between contractions
  • Follow body's cues; bear down only with contractions
  • Listen to doctor's instructions
  • Pant when necessary
  • Keep eyes open
  • Help her get into a comfortable position for pushing
  • Support her body while pushing
  • Remind her to relax her pelvic floor muscles
  • Remind her to relax between contractions
  • Help her with panting
  • Remind her to keep her eyes open

Stage 3

What happens to your bodyHelpful hints for youWhat your partner can do
  • Mild contractions
  • Separation and delivery of placenta
  • Repair of episiotomy/tears
  • If asked, push to help expel the placenta
  • Use breathing techniques as necessary
  • Hold and enjoy your baby
  • Assist with holding the baby
  • Praise her for a job well-done
  • Enjoy your baby

Stage 4

What happens to your bodyHelpful hints for youWhat your partner can do
  • Recovery begins
  • Shaking
  • Possible afterpains
  • Hunger
  • Perineal discomfort
  • Possible difficulty urinating
  • Rest
  • Get acquainted with baby
  • Begin breast-feeding
  • Eat and drink
  • Massage uterus
  • Urinate
  • Bond with baby
  • Call friends and family