Labour and childbirth are different for each woman.  Learning about stages of labour may help you feel ready for your baby's birth.

Labour is divided into three stages:

  • Labour
  • Pushing and birth
  • Delivery of the placenta

The first stage of labour

  • It is the longest stage- as it can last from 12 to 19 hours for first-time moms.
  • The lower part of your womb (cervix) begins to dilate (open) and thin out (efface).

The first stage of labour is divided into three parts: early labour, active labour, and transition to stage 2 of labour. 

Early labour

  • It can last for about 6 to 12 hours for first-time moms.
  • You may feel mild contractions. Your contractions will be 5 to 20 minutes apart and last 60 to 90 seconds.
  • You may have a bloody show- a pink, red or bloody vaginal discharge; if you experience heavy bleeding, call your doctor immediately.

Active labour

  • It starts when the cervix has dilated to 6 centimetres.
  • Your contractions will get stronger, longer, and more painful.
  • Your contractions will be 3 minutes apart and last for about 45 seconds.
  • You may experience pressure in your lower back.
  • Your cervix will dilate up to 10 centimetres (completely dilated).

Transition to the second stage of labour

  • It can be painful and can last for about 15 minutes to an hour.
  • Contractions last 60 to 90 seconds and come closer together.

Pushing and birth: The second stage of labour

The cervix is dilated fully, and the contractions are strong. This enables your baby to go further down the birth canal and be born. Your contractions will slow down (2 to 5 minutes apart) and last about 60 to 90 seconds. Your doctor will ask you to start pushing your baby out. This stage ends when your baby is born.

Delivery of your placenta: The third stage of labour

This is the shortest stage. The placenta is delivered- the placenta supplies your baby with food and oxygen.

Tips to help you manage your pain during labour


During early labour

  • If your contractions begin at night, try and sleep your way through it – the rest will help you prepare for the birth.
  • If your contractions start during the day, then stay up and out of bed. Being active will help your contractions work better but feel less painful.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Choose healthy foods to keep up your energy levels
    • Stay away from fatty and sugary foods.
  • Do something you enjoy. It will help you keep your mind off the pain.
  • Take a warm shower or bath.
  • Keep calm and carry on.

During active labour


Between contractions

  • Rest by being still or by rocking gently.
  • Use breathing techniques to relax
  • Move or rock your hips to relax those muscles.
  • Change positions often.
  • Listen to music that may offer comfort and keep your mind off the pain.

During contractions

  • Don't be shy about making noise. You can moan, hum, or repeat comforting words over and over as you go through each contraction.
  • Use breathing techniques to relax.

Don’t perform any of the breathing and muscle relaxation techniques without consulting your doctor.


  1. March of Dimes. Stages of labour [Internet]. Available at: Accessed on Aug 20, 2020.
  2. Southend University Hospital, NHS Foundation Trust. Latent phase of labour [Internet]. Available at: Assessed on Aug 17, 2020.  
  3. NHS. Week-by-week guide to pregnancy-Third trimester [Internet]. Available at: Accessed on Aug 20, 2020.
  4. Coping with Labor Pain. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2020;65(3):435–6.