Stages and Process of Labor
In general, labor follows a predictable course. When “uncomplicated” by other problems, there are a series of steps that follow, one after the other. Knowing the ordinary course is important for doctors, particularly so they can quickly identify problems in labor, and so they can timely react to those problems.
Women sometimes experience false labor, which is characterized by irregular contractions, abdominal discomfort, no cervical change, and contractions that may be relieved by moving around. On the other hand, true labor is signified by regular contractions, back discomfort which moves to the abdomen, progressive cervical dilation and effacement, progressively shorter intervals between contractions, and increased contraction intensity with movement.
Let’s start with a few key terms
- Cervix: The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, located between the vagina and the uterus.
- Contractions: shortening of uterine muscles at intervals before and during childbirth
- Dilation: opening of the cervix during childbirth
- Effacement: stretching and thinning of the cervix to prepare for passage of the baby
Stage 1 labor lasts until complete dilation, which is typically 6 to 18 hours for someone pregnant for the first time, or two to 20 hours for the woman with prior deliveries. The latent phase of stage one features cervical dilation of zero to three centimeters, and irregular contractions lasting 20 to 40 seconds. The active phase of stage 1 labor includes cervical dilation of four to seven centimeters. Contractions are five to eight minutes apart, and last from 45 to 60 seconds.
Stage 2 labor begins at complete dilation and lasts until delivery of the baby. It can be short, lasting from two minutes to about 60 minutes. It also has a latent and active phase. The latent phase lasts from the onset of contractions to the time when rapid cervical dilation begins.
Stage 3 labor lasts from delivery of the baby to delivery of the placenta. This can take between five and 30 minutes. The uterus will usually separate from the uterine wall with contractions once the baby is delivered. Oxytocin may be used (so long as the doctor verifies that there are no other undelivered babies) to strengthen contractions, which will decrease the delivery time of the placenta and minimize blood loss.
Stage 4 lasts from the delivery of the placenta through about the next 60 minutes—this is the recovery phase.
Look through our website for more information on the process of labor, and what you should expect. If the unexpected occurs and you have questions, call our birth injury malpractice attorneys at (440) 252-4399 or send us a message online for a free consultation.