Slide arrow to your week: back
  •  

    1 week

  •  

    2 week

  •  

    3 week

  •  

    4 week

  •  

    5 week

  •  

    6 week

  •  

    7 week

  •  

    8 week

  •  

    9 week

  •  

    10 week

  •  

    11 week

  •  

    12 week

  •  

    13 - 14 week

  •  

    15 - 16 week

  •  

    17 - 18 week

  •  

    19 - 20 week

  •  

    21 - 22 week

  •  

    23 - 24 week

  •  

    25 - 26 week

  •  

    27 - 28 week

  •  

    29 - 30 week

  •  

    31 - 32 week

  •  

    33 - 34 week

  •  

    35 - 36 week

  •  

    37 - 38 week

  •  

    39 - 40 week

  •  

    41 - 42 week

An overview of the different stages and phases of labour

An overview of the different stages and phases of labour


The process of labour is traditionally divided into three different stages. The 1st stage being when the cervix dilates, the 2nd when the baby is being pushed down and out the birth canal and the 3rd being the birth of the placenta. Some caregivers also refer to a 4th stage, being the recovery period for an hour or so after the birth.

Within these three main stages there can also be other recognisable phases. These phases usually relate to the intensity of the labour and may become apparent when the woman displays certain emotional and physical signs as her labour progresses. Caregivers often look for these signs, (instead of / or in combination with internal vaginal examinations) to help them establish where the labour may be and how it is progressing.

Learning to recognise the various phases of your labour, as well as the definitions of the three main stages, will help you understand the labour process better and assist you in the development of strategies to help you deal with each stage or phase.

The following is a guide to the various phases and stages of labour.

Prelabour

Early phase of 1st stage labour

Active phase of 1st stage labour

End of 1st stage or transition

2nd stage, resting phase

2nd stage, active or pushing phase

Crowning, end of 2nd stage

The birth

3rd stage of labour

Prelabour

Prelabour is when a woman starts to feel some physical signs that labour could be starting. This could be one sign, or more likely a combination of physical signs such as a show, diarrhoea (or loose bowel motions), nausea, possibly vomiting, backache, period pain, perhaps the waters breaking or some mild to moderate regular or irregular contractions. During this time the cervix softens and ripens, thins out and starts to open slightly (or dilate) up to about one to three centimetres.

Cervix  before labour Image 3-01 shows the cervix before labour, when it is still long, thick and closed.

Cervix Prelabour Image 3-02 shows the cervix starting to thin and soften before it begins to open in prelabour.


Updated November 2007

Information sources

Stables D. and Rankin J. Physiology in Childbearing with Anatomy and Related Biosciences. 2004, Bailliere Tindall, Edinburgh.


Last revised: Saturday, 24 November 2012

This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.

Get weekly development
updates on your baby and
you during pregnancy

  • Key milestones
  • Healthy tips and advice
  • A friendly online community
  • Delivered straight to your inbox

Enter your due date

 

Meal planning

Meal planning can make life a whole lot simpler, and d...

read more »

Homemade

Making your own pasta takes a little time but it will ...

read more »

Take care of YOU!

Here's how to make some time for you - from mums w...

read more »