Labor and Delivery

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

What are the stages of labor and delivery?

Labor is divided into three stages; corresponding to the dilation of the cervix, the birth of the baby, and the delivery of the placenta.

Stage 1 of labor and delivery

Stage 1 is the longest stage of labor. It is characterized by thinning (effacement) and dilation of the cervix. Sometimes doctors subdivide this stage into three separate phases: the latent phase, the active phase, and the transition phase. Contractions, occurring with increasing frequency, are present during all phases of Stage 1. Early contractions last from 30 to 45 seconds and are several minutes apart. During the latent phase the cervix dilates to about 3 to 4 centimeters. Many women are admitted to the hospital during this phase. In the active phase, the cervix dilates to about 7 centimeters, and the contractions become more intense. During the transition phase the cervix dilates completely to 10 centimeters, and the contractions are strong and painful. Contractions can occur every 3 to 4 minutes and last from 60 to 90 seconds.

Stage 2 of labor and delivery

Stage 2 refers to the passage of the baby through the birth canal until delivery. It begins when the cervix has fully dilated and voluntary pushing is initiated. Sometimes this is referred to as the "pushing" stage. The head is typically delivered first, and sustained pushing allows for delivery of the infant's shoulders and body. Some women prefer different body positions during this stage of labor. These may include kneeling, squatting, lying down, or even on the hands and knees. This stage may take minutes to a few hours. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a woman giving birth for the first time should complete Stage 2 within 2 hours if no regional anesthesia has been used, and up to 3 hours if she has received anesthesia. Stage 2 is usually shorter in subsequent pregnancies; up to 2 hours if anesthesia has been given and 1 hour if none has been used.

Stage 3 of labor and delivery

Stage 3 begins at the time the infant is delivered. In stage 3, the placenta and fetal membranes are expelled. The placenta and membranes are sometimes referred to as the afterbirth. Stage 3 usually takes only 5 to 10 minutes, but it can take up to 30 minutes. Mild contractions may occur during stage 3, and there may be some associated bleeding.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/2/2016
Pregnancy Myths and Facts Quiz: Test Your Pregnancy IQ

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Pregnancy & Newborns Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors