First stage – Cervix starts to soften
At the start of labour, the cervix starts to soften so that it can open. This is called the “latent phase” and you may feel irregular contractions. It can take many hours, or even days, before you’re in established labour.
Established labour is when your cervix has dilated to more than 3cm and regular contractions are opening the cervix.
Second stage – Cervix is fully dilated and baby will born
The second stage of labour lasts from when your cervix is fully dilated until the birth of your baby.
Finding a position to give birth in
Your midwife will help you find a comfortable position to give birth in. You may want to sit, lie on your side, stand, kneel or squat (although squatting may be difficult if you’re not used to it).
Pushing your baby out
When your cervix is fully dilated, your baby will move further down the birth canal towards the entrance to your vagina. You may get an urge to push that feels a bit like you need to have a poo.
You can push during contractions whenever you feel the urge. You may not feel the urge to push straight away. If you have an epidural, you may not get an urge to push at all.
If you are having your first baby, this pushing stage should last no longer than three hours. If you have had a baby before, it should take no more than two hours.
What happens when your baby is born
When your baby’s head is almost ready to come out, your midwife will ask you to stop pushing and to do some short breaths, blowing out through your mouth. This is so the head can be born slowly and gently, giving the skin and muscles of the perineum (the area between your vagina and anus) time to stretch.
Sometimes, to avoid a tear or to speed up delivery, your midwife or doctor will suggest an episiotomy. This is a small cut made to the perineum. You will be given a local anaesthetic injection to numb the area first. Once your baby is born the cut, or any large tears, will be stitched up.
Third stage – Placenta comes out
The third stage of labour happens after your baby is born, when your womb contracts and the placenta comes out through your vagina.
There are two ways to manage this stage of labour:
active – when you have treatment to speed things up
physiological – when you have no treatment and this stage happens naturally