How to understand the stages of labor?

How many labor stages do you think there are? If you answered four then you are correct. Each and every labor stage is part of having a successful birth and recovery. While you may experience a little different from one person to another we all go through the stages.

First baby, first free birth. Head is out, Daddy is ready to catch the baby. Stages of labor. birth stages

What are the labor stages?

  • First Stage of Labor: Thinning (effacement) and opening (dilation) of the cervix.


  • Second Stage of Labor: Your baby moves through the birth canal.


  • Third Stage of Labor: Afterbirth.


  • Fourth Stage of Labor: Recovery.

How do you know what stage of labor you are in? How do you remain focused and confident to make it through all the stages? We will dig into each stage and discuss ways to remain focused.

First Stage

During this first stage is where you will have contractions. These contractions will start to dilate which happens in three stages. Because in a traditional free birth you don’t have vaginal exams you usually don’t know or care to know about dilation. The first stage will usually last about 13 hours for your first baby and about 8 hours for your second.

  • Early labor will usually mean you dilate until 4 cm. This is when you may try walking, dancing or just sleeping depending on how you are feeling. Remember to eat and drink as to keep up your energy. Once you get to the point where you can’t talk or move around anymore you are going into active labor.
  • Active labor will usually mean 4 to 7 cm dilated. If you care to time contractions (I never did) they will be about 3 to 4 minutes apart and last a minute. At this stage, your water may break, keep in mind sometimes it doesn’t and that is ok. This is when you will want to focus on why you decided to have a free birth. Look at your birth affirmations as an additional reminder to help you focus.
  • Transition to the second stage. This can be the moment where you want to give in as it can be the hardest part of labor. At this time your cervix will be dilated from 7 to 10 cm, contractions will last 2 to 3 minutes and between 60 to 90 seconds long. Resting time will be hard to come by but remain focused. You are almost there and the best part is coming.

Second Stage

Your baby is moving through the birth canal. This second stage means you are fully dilated. You may start to feel the urge to push which may also feel like a bowel movement. You may choose to push with each contraction or allow FER to take over. We will discuss FER tomorrow so be sure to read more. The amount of time you are in this stages may depend on your birth position, the size of the baby and whether or not you have given birth before.  Once you deliver you may start to breastfeed this will help keep the contractions going and allow stage three to kick in.

Third Stage

You are now holding your new baby or babies and waiting for the placenta. You are still having contractions but they aren’t usually as strong. While in a medical setting you may be given pitocin to speed up the delivery of your placenta that usually isn’t necessary. It can take anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour before you deliver the placenta. You may try to nurse, sit on the toilet or just relax until your body is ready.

Forth Stage

Congrats your baby is born, the placenta has delivered, and you and your partner will feel joy, relief, and probably even fatigue. Most babies are ready to nurse within a short period after birth while others wait a little longer. If you plan to breastfeed, we encourage you to try to nurse as soon as possible. Nursing right after birth will help your uterus to contract and will decrease the amount of bleeding.

We hope you find all this information useful but as always remember that each labor and birth is different. This is not medical advice and should only be used as general information.

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