Every woman’s experience of labour is different. Nobody can predict what your labour will be like, or how long it will last. But there are plenty of things you can do to prepare yourself. What are the stages of labour?
Labour moves forward in three clear stages:
- First stage: when contractions gradually open up the cervix, which is the neck of your womb (uterus).It consists of early labour, active labour, and the transitional phase.
- Second stage: when you push your baby out into the world.
- Third stage: when you deliver the placenta.
There is also a phase called pre-labour, which happens before the first stage of labour.
What happens in pre-labour?
During pregnancy, your cervix is closed and plugged with mucus, to keep out infection. Your cervix is long and firm, giving a strong base to your womb. It’s also in a position that points slightly towards your back (posterior position).
Before labour can start properly, your cervix has to go through some changes. It has to move forward (anterior position), soften and shorten. The softening of your cervix is often called ripening.
What happens in the first stage of labour?
In the first stage of labour, your cervix has to open (dilate), so your baby can be born. The muscles of your womb tighten with each contraction and then release, gradually drawing your cervix up into the lower section of your womb.
In the early phase of first stage labour, your cervix may open very gradually so that it may seem as if no changes are happening at all. Early labour can be slow and your contractions may not last for long and have lengthy gaps between them. They may even stop for a while before starting again.
As you enter the active phase of first stage labour, the contractions usually last longer, and become more frequent and powerful. Towards the end of the first stage, your labour may become much more intense. This phase of labour is called transition. By the end of the first stage your cervix will be fully dilated, and open to about 10cm (3.9in) in diameter.
If this is your first baby, your cervix will first soften and shorten, and then begin to dilate. If you’ve had a baby before, this tends to happen simultaneously, meaning your labour may be shorter.