What to expect during labor

It can be hard to know what to expect during labor, but being well informed can help you feel prepared and confident.

For you, labor may be a continuous experience you think of as either "early" or "active" labor, according to how powerful the contractions are. Your doctors and nurses however divide your labor and birth into four stages. It is important you know what each of these stages includes so you can understand what your doctor or nurses are discussing with you. 

Stage 1

This stage is usually defined as when the cervix opens. This stage is further divided into three phases known as "early," "active" and "transition."

  • During the early phase your cervix will dilate from zero to four centimeters.

  • During the active phase you will dilate from four to approximately eight centimeters.

  • During the transition phase your cervix will finish dilating at about 10 centimeters in preparation for the birth of your baby.

Stage 2

During the second stage of your labor contractions are more frequent, intense and shorter. This is because your uterus is pushing your baby down the birth canal and out of your body through the open cervix.

Stage 3

In this stage of labor you will deliver the placenta and membranes.

Stage 4

The final stage of labor includes recovery and postpartum.

Placenta

The placenta is an organ that connects you and your baby during pregnancy. It takes oxygen and nutrients from the mother's body and supplies them to the fetus. Between five to 20 minutes after you give birth, your uterus will still be working and will push out the placenta. This is called the afterbirth.