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What are the stages of labor?

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Video en espanol: Las 3 etapas del trabajo de parto External Web Site Policy

Stage 1

The first stage of labor happens in two phases: early labor and active labor.

During early labor:

  • The cervix starts to open or dilate.
  • Strong and regular contractions last 30 to 60 seconds and come every 5 to 20 minutes.
  • The woman may have a bloody show.

A woman may experience this phase for a few hours or days, especially if she is giving birth for the first time.

During active labor:

  • Contractions become stronger, longer, and more painful.
  • Contractions come closer together.
  • The woman may not have much time to relax between contractions.
  • The woman may feel pressure in her lower back.
  • The cervix fully dilates to 10 centimeters.

Stage 2

During this stage, the cervix is fully dilated and ready for delivery. The woman will begin to push (or is sometimes told to “bear down”) to allow the baby to move through the birth canal.

During stage 2:

  • The woman may feel pressure on her rectum as the baby’s head moves through the vagina.
  • She may feel the urge to push, as if having a bowel movement.
  • The baby’s head starts to show (called “crowning”).
  • The health care provider guides the baby out of the vagina.
  • Once the baby comes out, the health care provider cuts the umbilical cord, which connected mother and fetus during pregnancy.

This stage can last between 20 minutes and several hours. It usually lasts longer for first-time mothers.

Stage 3

During this stage, the placenta is delivered. The placenta is the organ that gave the fetus food and oxygen through the umbilical cord during the pregnancy.

During stage 3:

  • Contractions begin 5 to 10 minutes after the baby is delivered.
  • The woman may have chills or feel shaky.

It may take 5 to 30 minutes for the placenta to exit the vagina.1,2

  1. March of Dimes. (n.d.). Stages of labor. Retrieved July 22, 2013, from Web Site Policy [top]
  2. American College of Nurse-Midwives. (2011). Second stage of labor: Pushing your baby out. Retrieved July 22, 2013, from Web Site Policy (PDF – 125 KB) [top]

BOND National Institues of Health Home Home Division of Intramural Population Health Research