Articles - Understanding the Stages of Labour
And what to do at each stage

Understanding the Stages of Labour


Email Newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter for a weekly round-up of all things birth. Subscribers receive a 10% discount when they purchase the Online Childbirth Education Program.



And what to do at each stage

Getting a good understanding of what is happening in each stage of labour can make a big difference to how you navigate birth and how you can assist your body. Below is an outline of the stages of labour and what to do during each phase:

Pre-Labour (Hours, Days, Weeks)

Physical Indications

  • Period pain
  • Back pain
  • Irregular contractions
  • Mucus plug
  • Waters breaking

What to Do

  • Rest, Sleep, Conserve Energy
  • Eat and drink
  • Continue daily activities
  • Ignore it as much as possible

First Stage - Early (10 – 20 Hours)

Physical Indications

  • Contractions more regular
  • Cervix is thinning
  • Dilating 0 – 5 cm
  • Waters may break or leak
  • Increased mucus / bloody show

What to Do

  • Conserve energy / pace yourself
  • Don’t ‘overwork’ the contractions
  • Eat and drink
  • Rest where possible
  • Use heat packs
  • Call support people

First Stage - Active (2 – 12 Hours)

Physical Indications

  • Cervix is dilating 5 – 9 cm
  • Intense, regular contractions
  • Contractions lasting approx 1 min
  • Contractions occur 2 – 3 mins apart
  • Need to focus and work with it
  • Endorphin levels increase

What to Do

  • Call midwife or go to hospital
  • Use shower or bath
  • Drink
  • Surrender, go inward
  • Visualize cervix opening
  • Massage, hot packs
  • Use breathing techniques and voice
  • Regular toilet

Transition (approx  5 mins – 1 Hour)

Physical Indications

  • Dilating 9 – 10 cm
  • Baby starts to descend
  • Increase of adrenalin
  • Feelings of not wanting to continue, panic, fear or self doubt
  • May experience urge to push
  • Increased bowel pressure

What to Do

  • Go with it – know you are close to meeting your baby
  • Receive heaps of encouragement

Second Stage (10 Mins – 3 Hours)

Physical Indications

  • Cervix is fully dilated 10 cm
  • Baby descends
  • Head crowns
  • Head is born
  • Baby is born!

What to Do

  • Go with instincts in finding position (if possible)
  • Stand, squat, hand and knees, birth stool
  • Push with contractions
  • Visualize baby coming down

Third Stage (approx 30 mins – 1 Hour)

Physical Indications

  • Placenta peels away from uterus wall
  • Placenta is born
  • Uterus starts to contract
  • Cord can pulse for up to 3 mins

What to Do

  • Hold your baby skin-to-skin against breast
  • Push when have urge
  • Continue to hold baby near breast
  • Stand or squat to aid expelling of placenta
  • Assist with cutting of cord (optional)


Ready to create your best birth?

Join Australia's leading online childbirth education program.

Sign up today

©2024 About Birth Pty Ltd |