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Stages of Labour

So, here you are, preparing for your birth. But how much do you know about what will actually happen during labour?


Well, there are a few theories about how many actual ‘stages’ there are. The one I lean towards is the theory below.


Stage One – Dilation Stations!


This is the first stage of labour. During this stage your body and baby will be working on dilating your cervix to 10cm. Small note here…although everyone likes to focus on the magic number 10…just like people, the cervix can come in all shapes and sizes. What may be fully dilated for you may not be for someone else. The key here is that your cervix is fully effaced (thinned out) and open (dilated) so that the baby may pass through and into the world.

This stage is split up in to two – the Latent Phase and Active Phase.

Phase 1 - The Latent Phase


Also referred to as ‘early labour’ this is the part of stage one where your baby is concentrating on getting that cervix dilated from 0-4cm. The Positive Feedback Loop of labour is massively in play here.

The baby begins to push down on your cervix. This pressure then triggers signals to be sent your brain. These signals tell your brain to produce the hormone Oxytocin which plays a massive part in birthing your baby. The Oxytocin then flows to your uterus via your bloodstream. Once there, it encourages the uterus to contract, further pushing your baby downwards, placing further pressure on the cervix. And so the loop begins again. Aren’t pregnant bodies amazing?!


Early labour can be both exciting and for some, frustrating. If you’re having a hospital birth, most labour wards and birthing units prefer you to stay at home until you reach 4cm dilated. The problem with pushing for 4cm, so to speak, is that it makes early labour feel like something we need to get through as quickly as possible in order to reach the next stage. The issue with this is that feelings of impatience, frustration or labouring on a schedule can actually make labour slow down. This is because feeling this way can actually inhibit Oxytocin reducing the effectiveness and regularity of contractions and so cervix dilation.


Top tip for this phase…get that Oxytocin flowing! Do anything and everything that makes you feel good. Watch your favourite funny film or series, cuddle or receive massage from someone you care about, get warm and cosy, dim the lights, take a relaxing bath, have a dance to your favourite playlist. All of these activities can stimulate Oxytocin and so ensure that positive feedback loop keeps on looping!




Phase 2 – The Active Phase


So, you’ve danced, snuggled and massaged your way to phase 2. Yay! Your cervix has done an amazing job of getting to 4cm dilated or what many medical professionals refer to as 'established labour.' This is the phase of Stage One where your cervix dilates from 4cm-10cm. The sensations you experience at this stage may feel a bit more intense as your hormones do their job in helping your uterus to contract and push your baby down.


Top tips for this phase…stay active if you can. Moving, dancing, squatting, any position that keeps you forward and upright will all help. Gravity is your friend here. Even though the sensations may be more intense, try your best to stay as relaxed as you can. Planning things ahead of time that will support you to feel calm can be really helpful e.g. calming essential oils, hypnobirthing tracks etc.


Stage Two – Push, Baby, Push!


In fact, I am more inclined to call this stage 'Listen, Baby, listen'. Yes, this is the stage where you will be working to physically birth your baby, but it is also the stage where it is extremely important to listen to your body. Your body is so capable and it has some marvelously ingenious ways to support you to bring your baby earthside (fetal ejection reflex anyone?!).


This stage is often the most exciting but it can also be the stage people get the most nervous about. The good news is, people have been birthing babies for millions of years and your body knows exactly what to do.


Shortly before your baby is born, you may experience the overwhelming feeling that you just. Cant. Do. This. This is completely normal and is actually considered a good sign. This feeling is related to a phase of labour called ‘Transition’ and is triggered when a baby begins to descend down the birth canal and usually means that birth is imminent. Hoorah!





Stage 3 – The Glorious Placenta


You did it! Your baby is here. Hopefully, by now you’ll be simultaneously sniffing your new baby’s head, being fed copious amounts of tea and toast and marveling at what a bloody badass you are. But you’re not quite done yet. You still need to birth the placenta.


Now baby is here, this wonderful organ is no longer needed your uterus will continue to contract moving your placenta down and out. You can choose to birth your placenta naturally or choose to receive an injection to help the delivery along. People choose to receive the injection for lots of reasons but the choice is always yours.


And there you have it. The stages of labour in a, rather large, nutshell.


If you have any questions, as always please feel free to get in touch.


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