What you can expect at each stage of Labour

What you can expect from every stage of labour

Labour is a unique experience for every woman, but it typically proceeds through three stages: early labour, active labour, and transition. Understanding what to expect during each stage can help you better prepare for the childbirth experience and feel more in control of your body.

In this article, we discuss what you can expect at each stage of labour. 

Early labour – also known as the latent stage

During the early labour stage, contractions are generally mild and infrequent, occurring every 15 to 20 minutes or more. This stage can last for hours or even days, and can be difficult to distinguish from Braxton Hicks contractions. In this stage, you may have time to rest, shower, or even sleep. Try to eat and drink as normal. If you are feeling nauseous, that’s not uncommon. Try to snack on small amounts of high energy foods and carbs, little and often. Try to stay well hydrated too. Drink frequently. This is also a good time to apply a TENS machine if you’re planning to use one.

As labour progresses, the contractions will become more frequent, longer, and stronger, signalling the start of active labour. If you’ve completed a course in hypnobirthing, now is a good time to utilise the techniques.

The active stage of labour

This stage typically begins when the cervix is about 4 centimetres dilated and lasts until it is fully dilated at 10 centimetres. During active labour, contractions will be closer together, feel stronger and last longer, usually around 30 to 60 seconds. They occur approximately every 3 to 4 minutes.

During active labour, it is important to stay mobile, find a comfortable position, and breathe through the contractions. You can try different positions such as walking, swaying, or use of a birth ball. Also, you may want to use a birth ball and have a warm shower, or have a warm pack placed on your lower back as a way to alleviate pain.

You may also consider using some form of pain relief such as gas and air. If you have a support person, they can help with massages, breathing techniques, and other forms of comfort measures. Continuing to encourage use of your hypnobirthing techniques.

The final stage of labour

As you approach the final stage of labour, called transition, the contractions will become even stronger and more intense. The cervix will fully dilate and the baby will begin to descend through the birth canal.

Transition is considered the most difficult stage of labour, as the contractions come one after the other, with very little rest time in between. You may feel an urge to push, but not always straight away. To encourage your baby’s head to move further down onto your pelvic floor, try laying on your left side for a while. Await for the urge to push. Your healthcare provider may give you instruction on when to begin pushing in some circumstances, but this will be discussed at the time and rationale why.

It is crucial during the transition stage that you remain calm and focus on your breathing. It’s also important to communicate with your healthcare provider on how you are feeling and any discomfort you are experiencing.

Throughout the entire labour, your healthcare provider will be monitoring your baby’s heart rate and your contractions, as well as the progress of your cervix. They will also be able to advise you about interventions such as the use of an episiotomy, or assistance to help you birth your baby, if required.

It’s important to remember that every labour and delivery is unique, and the length and progression of each stage can vary greatly from woman to woman. By preparing yourself for the different stages of labour, you will be better able to cope with the physical and emotional demands of childbirth. Trust in your body, your provider, and the process, and remember to take one contraction at a time.

    You deserve to enjoy your labour, birth, and parenthood journey.

    Know what to expect, feel in control, and be heard with our online, midwife-led hypnobirthing course.

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