When you think of labor you likely think of what you see in movies — long (sometimes short!) periods of contractions, pushing, screaming, then baby is here. But there are actually 3 different stages of labor you will go through.  We asked our expert Ashley Sousa, the labor and delivery nurse and instructor that leads our Childbirth: What to Expect, Pain Management & More, what the three stages are, and what to expect from each one. 

Remember, every parent, labor, and body is different, so it’s essential to learn what to expect from labor and delivery so you can prepare and embark on your childbirth journey. Your path may not follow what generally occurs, but you will at least have an idea of what to expect.

Each stage of labor and what to expect: 

The first stage of labor is when you feel those contractions that cause dilation and effacement. This starts when you experience that first contraction and is the longest stage of labor. This stage can actually be divided into three separate phases, itself: 
The Early Phase: This is the longest of the phases, but also the least intense. It can last 8-12 hours and can go from 0-6 cm dilated. Contractions start out mild and irregular. 
The Active Phase: When you are 6-10 cm dilated. This phase is typically 4-8 hours. Contractions are occurring regularly and are long and intense. 
The Transition Phase: This is the shortest but most intense part of labor. Contractions are intense and can overlap. 

The second stage of labor is the time when you are pushing and giving birth to your baby. Once you are fully dilated, you enter into this stage. During this time you will push the baby down the birth canal and ultimately give birth. On average first-time parents push for 2 hours, but it ranges from anywhere from 10 min to six hours. 

During this time don’t be afraid to try different laboring positions. Ask your healthcare provider what positions are possible based on the pain management techniques you have chosen. 

The third stage of labor is after your baby arrives when you deliver your placenta. This is the shortest and usually the easiest stage. After delivery, your uterus will continue to contract in order to decrease postpartum blood loss, help it return to prepregnancy size, expells extra tissue, and encourages the placenta to detach. Once your placenta is separated, you will have to deliver it. But don’t worry; this will seem like a breeze after delivering your child!

Once you’ve progressed through these stages of labor, it’s time to sit back, care for yourself, and enjoy that sweet new baby of yours. To learn more about the best laboring positions, pain relief pro tips, what to expect in those first few days of your baby’s life, and more, check out our class, Childbirth: What to Expect, Pain Management & More.