Understanding the Three Stages of Labor

Understanding the Three Stages of Labor

During the birth process, there are three distinct stages that occur, and the first of these stages is marked by certain phases within the stages. Simply termed the first, second, and third stages of labor, it is important for a mother to know what to expect during the delivery process.

The first stage of labor starts with the onset of labor and ends when the cervix is completely dilated. There are several signs that you may notice which indicate the start of labor. First, preliminary signs that your labor is approaching includes a “bloody show,” which can appear as a bloody mucus or plug. Also, your water will break, either in a trickle or a gush. You may notice irregular or even normal contractions, which can last for hours. They do not work to open the cervix, but they indicate that labor may not be far away.

Next, you know that your labor is starting for sure when you pass the amniotic fluid, as well as progressing contractions. Progressing contractions means that they get longer, stronger, and closer together as time progresses. These are the contractions that work to dilate your cervix. The latent phase of cervical dilation happens very slowly. Once the cervix begins to open very rapidly, this is the active phase of dilation.

The second stage of labor begins once the cervix is completely dilated. As the mother starts to push, the uterus also contracts and moves the baby into the birth canal. A soon-to-be mom’s pushing ability may be decreased if she has had an epidural. This is because epidurals, although helpful in blocking pain, can also hinder a mother’s capacity to use the muscles necessary to push. Thus, if a mother has had an epidural, her second stage of labor may be longer than normal.

Finally, once the baby arrives, the second stage of labor ends, and the third stage of labor begins. The third stage is characterized by the delivery of the placenta, or afterbirth. Typically, the span of time between the arrival of the baby and the arrival of the afterbirth is only about five minutes. While this seems to be a very short, harmless stage, it is actually very dangerous for the mother. If the placenta and the uterus do not separate correctly, the mom is at high risk for hemorrhaging.

During all three of these stages of labor, a doctor should be competently guiding you through the delivery of your baby. However, if an obstetrician fails in his or her duty to you, it can result in injury to your new baby.