The 4 Stages of Labour

What is “labour” exactly?

the rewards of “labour” – photo credit: Lydia of GoFoto Lifestyle Newborn Photography

#14 Small Talk 2019

Apart from hard work, what exactly are you in for once “labour” begins?

When you first find out you are expecting a baby, the last
thought on your mind will be “labour”! As the months pass and you get nearer to
the expected date of your little one’s birth, you will surely hear from other
moms about the kind of “labour” they experienced if they had a natural birth.
This blog may help you put the “labour” of giving birth into perspective so
that when your turn comes, you will at least know how this stage of your pregnancy
will progress. First of all, what exactly is labour, you may ask? 

What exactly is

If you are having a natural vaginal birth, when your baby is
ready to be born a hormone called oxytocin is released and this causes your
contractions to start. These contractions are muscular tightening of the uterus
which soften and thin out and open (or dilate) your cervix. There are 4 stages
which a normal labour will progress through.

The First Stage

This starts from when your contractions first begin and lasts
until your cervix has dilated fully to 10cm. Initially you may not even be
aware that you are actually in labour and you will probably be able to carry on
with your normal daily routine. As time progresses the contractions will become
more noticeable and frequent as well as lasting longer and becoming stronger.
Eventually the contractions will come at 5 minute intervals and will last for
up to a minute. You are now near the end of the first stage of labour. With
each contraction, the baby’s head is pushed down onto the cervix and more
oxytocin is released thereby making the contractions more efficient. You may
notice a mucous vaginal discharge and this may be tinged with a bit of blood –
the so-called “bloody show”. Don’t panic, this is normal – if there is more
than just a tinge of blood though, it is time to call your doctor. There now
follows a transition phase in which your contractions become really strong and
you may find it difficult to keep on top of things unless you have attended
pre-natal classes and have been coached in breathing techniques to help you
through. During this transition period your cervix will dilate to the full 10cm
and the contractions are now focused on pushing the baby down instead of
pulling the cervix open.

The Second Stage

This stage lasts from when the cervix is fully dilated until
your precious baby is born. There is initially a short rest period where you
have a bit of relief from the intensity of your contractions. This then leads
into an active phase of the second stage where you will feel the desire to bear
down and push with each contraction. With each push, the baby moves a fraction
down the birth canal and you will be encouraged to push with each contraction.

The Third Stage

The birth of the placenta (the afterbirth) is considered to
be the third stage of labour and the contractions are not nearly as intense as
those previously felt! Many women are given an injection of oxytocin once their
baby’s shoulder has been born. This encourages uterine contractions to hasten
the separation of the placenta from the uterus. This also helps the uterus to
contract and so decrease any heavy bleeding that follows the birth of the

The Fourth Stage

The crucial first hour after the birth of your baby is
considered as a fourth stage of labour. During this time the baby is dried and
put skin to skin on your chest. This helps warm your baby and also promotes
more release of oxytocin which will promote gentle contractions which help
control any bleeding from the uterus as well as helping the milk flow from your
breasts, ready for breast feeding. This is an important time of bonding between
you and your little one and should not be rushed. In fact you will be feeling
pretty marvellous (if a little tired!)and you probably won’t be able to resist
just gazing in wonder at your baby. All that labour will have been worth it!!


Although giving birth is regarded as “labour”, what other
job on this earth can bring you such joy and happiness lasting a lifetime?!!
Yes, labour is painful, for sure. But so worthwhile.  And soon the memory of that painful time is
surpassed by the love you feel for your baby.

A personal note here: I have had two wonderful baby boys
(now grown up), each a natural vaginal delivery and I don’t regret one minute
of my “labour”. My firstborn was a 24 hour labour..the first 8 hours were not
too bad –in fact, I didn’t even believe that his birth was imminent. When my
contractions were 5 minutes apart, I phoned my caregiver who told me to get
myself off to the maternity hospital. I think I have totally blotted the next
16 hours from my mind. I know I begged for an epidural at about 1am and my boy
was born just after 3am. And just like that, all the pain was gone and I had a
gorgeous little boy!!! Thankfully my second labour (of joy!) was not as intense
and lasted a mere 7 hours (I asked for the epidural way before it was so
painful that I would lose control!). Once again, all memory of pain disappeared
once I saw my second little boy and I fell in love all over again.

So, ladies – yes, labour does hurt but it is so worth it as
it produces the miracle of life. And the painful part can be controlled to some
extent. And you will soon have forgotten all about the pain when you set eyes
on your little one.

I hope this blog will help you get your mind around “labour”
so that when it happens to YOU, you will know which stage you are in and be
able to focus on the endpoint – the birth of your child!

Yours in lifestyle newborn photography


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