Stages of Labor


Dr. O’Connor

You may have learned about the three stages of labor in your childbirth classes, but here’s a quick review.

Let’s start with Stage One, which is made up of three different phases — Early Labor, Active Labor, and Transition. Early labor can last for six to eight hours, although with your first baby, it may last as long as 14 to 20 hours. Early labor begins with cramps that gradually become stronger and more regular. Your cervix is thinning and dilating. Early labor usually transitions to active labor when your cervix is dilated to four to five centimeters. By this point most women would be at the hospital. Some women, particularly those who’ve already delivered a baby, may be dilated three or four centimeters and not be in labor at all.

When you’re in active labor, your contractions will be about three to five minutes apart and feel more intense. This stage usually lasts three to six hours for a first-time mom. You may have some nausea and vomiting, along with pressure in your hips. At this point in your active labor, if you’re not already at the hospital, you should get there as soon as possible. After you’re dilated to about seven centimeters, you’ll go into the next phase of Stage One, which is transition.

Transition is the phase where your contractions are the strongest, and you may have the most nausea and vomiting. Fortunately, this phase doesn’t last as long as the others — from half an hour up to two hours for first babies. This is the third and final phase of Stage One labor. When your cervix is dilated to 10 centimeters, it’s time to move into the second stage of labor, which is pushing.

Keep in mind that the length of time for each of the phases of labor varies a great deal from one woman to another.