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  • Writer's pictureJulia Iddir


The Stages of Labour are much like the story of the Emperor's New Clothes. Remember that one? (here's a refresher). In our little anaology, the stages of labour are the clothes. There are no stages, but the constant chatter about them convinces us that there must be.

Buuuuut, if you really feel like knowing what the stages are, just so that when your care provider tells you "you're in established labour" (or whatever), then here goes.

The textbooks say that there are three main stages. 1st Stage (including early, active and transitional labour), 2nd Stage (Pushing and delivery of the baby) and 3rd Stage - delivery of the placenta.

1st Stage is made up of three main phases :

  • Early : this is when your cervix dilates (opens) and effaces (thins) to 4 to 6 centimeters. Contractions last for about 30 to 45 seconds and gradually increase in intensity and frequency, from around 20 minutes to five minutes apart.

  • Active / Established : The cervix dilates from around 4 to 6 centimeters to around 7 to 9 centimeters. Contractions last around 40 to 60 seconds and come about three to four minutes apart.

  • Transition : The cervix fully dilates to 10 centimeters. Contractions are around 60 to 90 seconds long and occur about every two to three minutes.

Now, I sincerely hope that this goes without saying but...your labour could look entirely different to this because... say it with me folks... I'm not a robot.

There are so many caveats to this, it's a bit ridiculous. We don't all dilate to 10cm cos... why would you if your babies head is only 9.5cm. We dilate to the size of our babys' head. Some people can have back to back contractions with no breaks. Some people can be in active labour and still be 10 minutes between each contraction. And don't even get me started on the 1cm per hour rule that kicks in once you hit active labour... it's totally out of date and around 50% of first time parents don't achieve that target!

Okay, randy-pants off for a second.

Whats really important to keep in mind is that you are the only 'you' expert in the room. Any care provider can tell you how dilated you are but not one of them has a crystal ball that can tell you whats going to happen in the next 5 minutes, let alone the next 5 hours. We can plot progresson a chart all we like, but that progress can take a sharp turn at any moment, so we've got to take our on-paper-progress along side how we're feeling and behaving and responding.

But anyway, there, you've got through the first stage of labour. Congratulations.

Pushing and birthing your baby is the next bit... thats pretty intense, but with good preparation and support, it's actually a lot like going for a massive poo. It'll usually take at least 30 minutes but in most cases no more than 2 hours.

And now you have your baby!

The final stage is to delivery your babys' placenta but I'm going to dealve into that. little bit more in another post, so we'll leave that one there fore now.

There are lots of websites with good descriptions of the stages - try something like


...but more important than memorising all of that is spending time figuring out and really cementing in your coping strategies and comfort measures.

J x

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