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What Are the Stages of Labor?

6 Stages of Labor and Delivery

From the first contractions to the final push, learn what to expect from labor and delivery.

You’ve made it through the wild ride that is pregnancy. The bodily changes, the bizarre cravings, and likely, the lack of sleep. Now it’s time to start the labor and delivery process so you can bring baby home.

Prodromal Labor

During this stage, the cervix begins to thin, soften, move forward, and dilate. Contractions start, but they’re usually irregular and can fluctuate between strong and mild. With these contractions, women may feel pressure or an achy sensation in their lower abdomen or back. Prodromal labor typically lasts anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Early Labor

The cervix continues to dilate, typically to three or four centimeters, during this phase, which comprises approximately two-thirds of the total labor time. Contractions during early labor become stronger and more regular – about five minutes apart and last 25 to 45 seconds each. Changing positions frequently during early labor can help women feel more comfortable, as can alternating between rest and activity.

Active Labor

With active labor, contractions become longer and stronger, until they’re eventually around three minutes apart and last for a minute or more. This phase tends to take an average of two to six hours, and at the end, the cervix should be dilated to about eight inches. It is very important for women to listen to their bodies during active labor and develop a rhythm to avoid tensing up during contractions. As with early labor, changing positions during active labor can enhance progress and keep women comfortable.


This is when the cervix finishes dilating. It usually lasts less than an hour, but can leave women feeling nauseous, shaky, restless,
or irritable.


It’s time to push! The time it takes the baby to make it down through the pelvis and birth canal can last anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours. Most women recognize an urge to bear down after the dilation completes. Right before the baby is born, women may feel a burning, stinging, or stretching sensation at the vaginal opening.


After a child is born, his or her cord is cut, and parents can participate in skin-to-skin care. It’s also the opportune time for the mother to try her first breastfeeding, if she has made that decision.

An Expert Weighs In

"Giving birth can be nerve wracking, so make use of your doctor. Get to know his or her partners in addition to your own doctor. if there's an oreintation program or tour at the hospital, make time to attend. When admitted, as to speak with the anesthesiologist if you care considering an epidural. Continue a dialogue about your expectations and rights as a patient directly with your care provider. Birth is a cooperative process, and the medical professional is there to assist and utilize his or her knowledge to you and your baby's benefit."

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