Different Stages of Labor: Early Labor, Active Labor & Transition Stage

Labor is the very first stage of a childbirth progression journey and it is followed by the second and third stages which are delivery of a baby and delivery of placenta irrespectively.

However, the first stage of labor is the most critical one so its very crucial for every expecting mother to have detail knowledge about all stages of labor so that she remain more confident about whatever going to happen with her.

Stages of Labor

The first stage of labor is the longest stage of overall childbirth procedure which is divided into three phases such as Early labor phase, Active labor phase, and Transition phase.

Each one of them persists for a stipulated time. However, how long each one of them will persists depends upon person to person based on their individual health condition and past laboring experiences.

Usually, women who are going to give birth for the very first time in their life are likely to face each stage and phases symptoms more than those who have already given birth to one or more children. Overall childbirth involves testing of both physical and emotional stamina of an expectant mother.

Though there is no specific way to determine the type of laboring and childbirth experience you are going to face still knowledge about each stages symptoms and tips on what you should do and expect at a particular situation can encourage you to be on your path in a very determined way so that a natural childbirth would be possible in most possible comfortable manner.

In this article, we will discuss each and every stage of childbirth which are three and again in detail the three phases of the first stage of childbirth i.e. laboring stage.

First Stage

The first stage of childbirth is the onset of the true labor which persists for the time being until your cervix get dilated to 10 cm. This is the longest stage of labor or childbirth which consists of three phases such as:

Early Labor Phase- This particular phase includes the onset of labor until your cervix dilated to 3 cm.
Active Labor Phase- This labor phase includes the time duration in which the cervix dilated from 3 cm to 7 cm.
Transition Phase- This labor phase includes the time duration in which the cervix dilated from 7 cm to 10 cm that is the completion of the dilation process.

Early Labor Phase

This is the very first phase or stage of labor which persists for a longer duration with a comparison to the other two phases. However, this is the less intense phase than the other two phases. It is also known as a latent phase.

This phase may continue from several hours to many weeks either with or without any noticeable contractions. The efface will thin out and the cervix dilates or open up to 3 cm in this particular phase.

Signs of the Early Labor Phase

During your early labor phase, you may experience the following signs or symptoms of labor-

The contraction will happen which will last for 30 to 45 seconds with a break interval time of 5 to 30 minutes.
Contraction intensity remains mild and irregular initially however with time it gets stronger and more frequent than before.
Backache happens that may be constant or with every contraction.
Pain and tightness occur in the pelvic area just like the menstrual cramp.
A warm sensation may develop in the abdominal area.
This particular phase may last around 8 to 12 hours.
The cervix will efface and will dilate up to 3 cm.
Diarrhea and indigestion may happen.
Bloody mucus discharge may occur.
The amniotic sac rapture may happen means your water will break at any time during the first stage of labor.

What actions you can take during your early labor?

During your early labor phase, you will go through versatile emotions due to this new experience out of your physical and emotional involvement such as excitement, fear, anxiety, uncertainty, anticipation, and relief.

These emotions are quite usual and normal so you need not feel panic or stressed about them. Try to keep yourself calm which will be an only effective resolution to go through this roller coaster ride in a more positive way.

You need to save your physical and emotional strength to utilize it later on for the more critical conditions and phases of labor and childbirth. You don’t need to rush for the hospital instead you should relax at this particular time.

Drink plenty amount of water and eat some handful of snacks which will protect you from draining your energy level. If the early labor signs occur in the day time then try to keep yourself busy in light household chores so that your mind will remain distracted and you can easily avoid those difficulties which are just at the beginning stages.

You should notice and have a proper record of your contraction frequency so that later on you can discuss everything with your doctor if you need so. If those signs occur in the night time then sleeping will be a better idea to keep yourself in a relaxed position and to deal with those signs.

Active Labor Phase

The second stage of labor which is known as the active labor phase generally lasts for 2 to 3 hours and even sometimes more. In this particular phase, the cervix dilates up to 7 cm. At this particular condition, the patient requires to be in a hospital in the labor room for the progression of the childbirth process with the constant assistance of a midwife or a doctor.

Signs of the Active Labor Phase

During your active labor phase, you will notice the following signs and symptoms-

The contraction intensity gets stronger and more frequent than the early labor phase.
The contraction will last for more longer duration such as from 40 to 60 seconds with a distinct peak.
The contraction may occur at an interval of every 3 to 4 minutes however this pattern will be fluctuating.
Each contraction will be accompanied by more pain and discomfort.
The feeling of fatigue and backache will increase.
Your leg will get more heavy and discomforting.
The cervix will dilate from the 4 com to 7 cm at this particular phase.
Bloody discharge can increase.
If your rapture is not broken then it can be broken now by the doctors artificially.
If any woman has given epidurals at this point then she will not feel the pain.
What actions you can take during your active labor?
As the contraction intensity remains stronger and more frequent in this particular phase of labor so it is quite obvious to remain in utmost pain and discomfort by the laboring women.

It is not possible to feel relaxed either emotionally or physically still you should remind yourself about your ultimate goal which will keep your enthusiasm boosted and on track which is the actual requirement of this particular phase or condition.

Your confidence will help you to maintain your patience level as you will feel more encouraged and excited whenever you will remind yourself how far you have come and just little more to go.

This is the phase which is preparing you to get active for achieving your ultimate goal or target. The feelings that you are going through now are quite normal and you need not worry about them.

This is the time when you should be in the hospital if you are still at your home as you need constant assistance of doctors or midwife. You can try some breathing techniques at this particular time for easing your pain and discomforts a little bit.

Switch your positions frequently which will keep your mind and body in a better-synchronized way as per your current condition. Walk along with your partner or alone a little far or take a warm bath if it is possible. Drink plenty amount of water and urinate when you need so.

Transition Phase

This is the third stage of labor known as transition phase or transitional labor. With comparison to other phases of labor, it is a more intensive one. Your cervix dilates from 7 cm to 10 com cm which is the final dilation.

Though this stage is very intense but it doesn’t last too long like other phases. Usually, a transition phase lasts from 15 minutes to 1 hour and in some cases up to 3 hours.

Signs of the Transition Phase

In your transitional labor phase, you will notice the following signs or symptoms-

In the transition phase, the intensity of the contractions remains in its peak.
The contractions will last for 60 to 90 seconds with an interval of 30 seconds to 2 minutes in between which will be your resting time.
This particular phase lasts for about 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Intense pressure in the lower back or perineum may occur.
The patient may experience hot flashes, chilled, shaky, gas, nausea, and vomiting.
Rectal pressure occurs with or without a desire of pushing.
Legs cramp with trembling.
Drowsiness between the contractions.
Feeling of tightness in the chest and throat area.
The cervix dilates up to 10 cm.
Increase in the bloody show due to rupture of capillaries in the cervix.
Feeling of fatigue and exhaustion.

What actions you can take during your transition phase of labor?

The transition phase of labor is very painful, exhausting and intense one however it is very exciting as well because you are much closer to see the very first look of your baby.

At this point sometimes you will feel exhausted, overwhelmed, drained, disorient and impatient. This mix-up of feelings is quite a natural phenomenon and there is nothing to worry about it.

If you have given epidurals then you will only feel excitement as you won’t feel any such pain or trouble sensation both emotionally and physically. At the end of this phase, the cervix will be dilated fully and then you only require to push your baby out.

Only you need to focus that how long you have crossed your journey which will keep your enthusiasm boosted and elevated which is the basic need of this particular phase.

At this point, the role of the support persons is very crucial for the struggling mother. You can ask from your health care provider that how long you have come and when you are going to feel the urge of pushing.

Stage 2 of Childbirth: Birth of the baby

Stage 2 is the very crucial stage of childbirth progression journey as this is the time when you will give birth to your child. It is also known as the second stage of labor which comes after the end of the third phase or transition phase when the cervix dilates up to 10 cm.

This particular stage may last for few minutes to approx. few hours time. Women who had epidurals or first-time mothers will experience this particular stage longer than experienced or non-epidurals mothers.

The healthcare specialists will guide you at this point that when you need to push for pulling out your baby to this world. Also, you may push when you feel its urge.

Bear down the contractions and push as much as you can without holding tension in your face. You can try different body positions which may feel better to you in your pushing work like squatting, kneeling, or sitting.

At some point, your healthcare provider can ask you to push gently or don’t push at all. This will help your vagina to have some time to stretch without tearing its tissues.

Once your baby head is delivered means you have already won the half war because the rest of your baby’s body will follow by itself shortly without much pressure.

If required the airways of your baby will be cleared by the doctors and then they will cut the umbilical cord.

Stage 3 of Childbirth: Delivery of the placenta

Once your baby is delivered then its turn for the last or third stage of childbirth in which the placenta is delivered. However, as your baby is already delivered so you will feel a great feeling of relaxation. Now you can even hold your baby in your arms if you want so.

The delivery of placenta takes 5 to 30 minutes time however in certain cases this may take as long as an hour time. At this point, you need to relax both emotionally and physically. You can breastfeed your baby which will keep you distracted what is going on around you.

Even at this stage, you may feel mild contractions however it will not be very painful or persist too long. Your healthcare specialists will ask you to push once again in order to deliver your placenta.

Certain medications can be given before and after delivering the placenta for boosting the uterine contraction and lowering the bleeding.

Once the placenta is delivered it will be thoroughly checked by the doctor to see whether it is intact or not. If they find any remaining fragments in uterus then they will remove it instantly for preventing the bleeding and infections risk.

After the placenta delivery, the uterus will start contracting to get back into its normal sizing. Your midwife can give massaging to your abdomen so that your uterus can feel firm.

As per your specific condition, your healthcare specialists will stitch your vaginal area and give treatment to the damaged vaginal tissues. A local anesthetic injection will be given before giving the stitches to protect you from pain caused by the stitching process.

Though all the stages of labor are discomforting and painful still once you will get your baby in your arms you will simply forget about all those traumas and bitter experiences within a fraction of second. Now it’s your time, spend it with your baby and cherish his or her childhood.
Dr Rohit Bhaskar, Physio
Dr Rohit Bhaskar, Physio Dr. Rohit Bhaskar, Physio is Founder of Bhaskar Health and Physiotherapy and is also a consulting physiotherapist. He completed his Graduation in Physiotherapy from Uttar Pradesh University of Medical Sciences. His clinical interests are in Chest Physiotherapy, stroke rehab, parkinson’s and head injury rehab. Bhaskar Health is dedicated to readers, doctors, physiotherapists, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. Bhaskar Health audience is the reason I feel so passionate about this project, so thanks for reading and sharing Bhaskar Health.

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