Although the part that gets most of the press usually occurs in hospital, labour is actually divided into three stages. Understanding these stages will help you understand what is happening to your body and hopefully relieve some of the stress before the baby’s arrival

The first stage of labour

You enter the first stage of labour when your cervix begins to prepare for the baby. Your cervix will soften and eventually open up to about 10cm in diameter in preparation for the actual birth.

During the initial parts of this stage you might not feel much at all. Some signs to look out for, however, include:

  • A mucousy, blood-stained discharge from your vagina, called the ‘show’
  • An urge to vomit
  • The onset of lower-back pain
  • A loosening of your bowels
  • A slow release or sudden gush of clear or slightly pink fluid (the breaking of your waters)
  • Period-like pain that comes and goes irregularly.
Once these last pains start to occur regularly, you can time them to measure how long elapses between each contraction. At about 3-5 minutes between each contraction, you are entering the second stage of labour and should make your way to the hospital. If you have opted for a home birth, you might have called the midwife earlier to give them enough time to make their way over. When to call will be something you will have discussed previously.

The second stage of labour

This is it. As you draw closer to childbirth, everything in stage two intensifies.
  • Your contractions will increase in strength and length, with shorter breaks between
  • You might feel nausea, headaches and increased pressure on your bowels
  • You’ll experience a stretching, burning sensation in your vagina
  • And you will feel the urge to push down
Eventually that urge will feel overwhelming. You will be guided by the midwife as you breathe and focus on that pushing sensation, and finally you will feel the baby’s head travelling down the birth canal and into a safe pair of hands.

The third stage of labour

Far less covered than the previous two, the third stage of labour involves the expulsion of the placenta from your uterus. Usually your contractions will continue briefly to ensure this, and your midwife might ask you to keep pushing (so don't think they're saying that because another baby is on its way!).


  • Unless advised otherwise by your doctor, try and stay at home during the first stage of labour as long as possible. Alternatively, call the hospital and speak to a midwife for on the spot advice
  • During the early stages or on the way into hospital, eat some snacks to build up your energy for the hours to come
  • The typical duration of labour for first-time mothers is 8-14 hours, with that time decreasing for second or subsequent pregnancies
  • Try to focus on the positive of the tribulations of labour and give control over to your body: these are all cues that the pain will soon be at an end and your baby will enter the world
*The above should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of trained medical professionals