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The Three Stages of the First Stage of labor

Three stages of labor

There are Three Stages of the First Stage of Labor which is confusing enough but when women start sharing “war stories” about birth, it gets even more confusing…

“I was in labor for 29 hours.”

“Oh that’s nothing! I was in labor for 38 hours!”

“You think that’s bad? I was in labor for 53 hours!”

“Wow, my neighbor was in labor for like 6 days…”

Can we get to the bottom of this mess? Labor is the time when the uterus begins contracting and the cervix starts to ripen, soften and dilate. And for some, it is a long slow process. For others, it can happen more quickly. Neither is right or wrong and both are normal.

But when someone says they were in labor for a million hours, the message they try to convey is…

That they were in torturous, painful, agonizing labor the entire time and that is simply not how it works.

So let’s break down the 3 stages of the first stage of labor.

Wait! I should tell you what the 3 stages of labor are before I tell you about the 3 stages of the first stage of labor. See how this gets confusing???

The 3 Stages of labor

The first stage of labor is from the time that regular contractions begin, to the time the cervix is fully thinned out and completely dilated (10cm).

The second stage of labor is from the time you are completely dilated to the time the baby is born. Stage 2 is the birth of the baby.

The third stage of birth is from when the baby is born to when the placenta is born. Stage 3 is the delivery of the placenta.

But let’s talk about the 3 stages of the first stage of labor. These stages are broken down based on cervical dilation.

Early labor

Early labor is from the time you begin having contractions, to when your cervix is approximately 4 centimeters dilated.

This is an exciting time! You’ve been pregnant for a long time and now you are closer than ever to meeting your baby! During this time, you can expect contractions to be fairly manageable. They will likely start out short in length (20-40 seconds) and be a bit sporadic in timing. Your cervix will be moving from the posterior position to the anterior position, it will be softening and thinning and it will be opening or dilating. You will be able to walk, talk, and breathe through these contractions. As they progress, that will change and you will be moving toward the second stage of labor.

Active labor

Active labor is the part of labor where your cervix is changing from 4 centimeters to 7 centimeters. During this time, contractions are longer, stronger and closer together and typically pretty consistent.  These contractions take all of your focus. Walking and talking through them would likely be challenging.

Transitional labor

Transitional labor is the time when your cervix is changing from 7 to 10 centimeters dilated. These contraction are the most intense and require absolute focus. This is the most difficult part of labor and typically, the shortest.

This is the part of labor people elude to when they say… I was in labor for 1,000 hours!!! 

But it’s not true! 

Early labor can be expected to take 8 – 12 hours

Active labor can be expected to take 3 – 5 hours

Transitional labor can be expected to take 30 minutes – 2 hours

On the long side, that’s 19 hours. You got this!

That said, there are reasons for prolonged labor but I can assure you this… NO ONE has EVER been in transitional labor for 1,000 hours! 

Maybe it’s time to stop freaking people out with these labor war stories. We will honor your birth story whether it was long, short, difficult, easy, medicated, vaginal, surgical or any variation that becomes necessary or that you choose!