Health & BeautyLabor & Delivery

Pregnant And Nervous About Giving Birth? The 5 Stages Of Labor Explained

Photo of author

By Kim

Giving birth is something that many women fear.

Most of us have heard horror stories and watched movies that portray childbirth as a horrible event.

While it’s true that some parts of childbirth can be intense and painful, there are other stages of the birthing process that are only mildly uncomfortable.

Education is the key. The more you understand about the process of labor and know what to expect, the less likely you are to fear it.

Here’s what you need to know about the stages of labor…

#1 – Pre-labor Stage

The first stage of labor is called pre-labor.

Many women do not even consider themselves to be in labor at this point because it is relatively painless. This the the point at which the body is making many changes in preparation for the upcoming birth.

Pre-labor begins when your body’s blood volume significantly increases during the 3rd trimester. This change is noticeable even to strangers because you will begin to swell. Wedding rings may not fit anymore, and your feet and ankles may appear full and puffy.

Another noticeable symptom of pre-labor is the onset of the famous Braxton-Hicks contractions.

These contractions are usually painless and come at irregular intervals. During Braxton-Hicks contractions, the uterus simply tightens. This helps to strengthen the uterus and prepare it for true labor.

Some women experience these contractions for several weeks, while others might only notice them for a few days. You can determine if your contractions are pre-labor contractions by monitoring their intensity and timing. Braxton-Hicks contractions will not get increasingly painful like a true contraction, and they also do not come in rhythmic patterns.

#2 – Early Labor Stage

Early labor is when those Braxton-Hicks contractions begin to change.

During this phase, they will come at regular intervals and begin to get closer together. Contractions will also be more uncomfortable.

In early labor, many women eat a meal, play with their other children, and continue to do household chores to prepare for the upcoming birth.

If you can calm your mind enough to sleep, it’s a good idea to get some rest at this stage. No one can tell how long labor will last, so it’s important to rest whenever possible.

#3 – Active Labor Stage

During active labor, there is no doubt in your mind that you are in true labor.

Each contraction begins to demand more of your attention, and you must focus on coping.

Other activities that you might have been doing — such as eating or talking — will begin to subside as you concentrate solely on each contraction.

It is at this point that women who were excited and giddy about labor begin to grow more serious and quiet in order to deal with the intensity of labor.

#4 – Transition Stage

The transition stage of labor is bittersweet. Many women regard this as the most painful part of labor, but it also signifies that the baby’s birth is in the near future.

Transition occurs as the cervix finishes dilating and the body prepares to push the baby out.

At this point, contractions can be so close together that there is no break between each one. (Some women experience painful contractions that peak twice.)

The good thing about the transition stage is that it is most often the shortest part of labor. Most women stay in the transition phase for somewhere between 15 minutes to half an hour.

During transition, some women experience symptoms such as shaking or vomiting. Others experience cold or hot flashes and they begin to doubt if they can continue this labor process.

If you have family members present at the birth, they should be prepared to encourage you during the transition stage by reminding you that you are almost ready to push the baby out. Lots of positive encouragement will help you make it to the pushing stage.

#5 – Pushing Stage

When transition is completed, the pushing stage begins.

The baby’s head has now passed through the cervix and is ready to be pushed through the birth canal.

At this point, many women experience a break in the frequency of contractions. It is not uncommon for contractions to slow down to one every 5 minutes or so.

The position of the baby’s head places pressure on certain nerves that may cause you to experience an uncontrollable urge to push. Some women say that they have no control over the pushing stage and their body just seems to bear down all by itself.

The baby’s head will begin to crown during this stage, and eventually the head and shoulders will be born. Once the shoulders come out, the rest of the baby’s body slides out with ease and the baby is quickly handed to the mother.

What Happens After The Baby’s Born?

Shortly after the baby is born, you will experience contractions that are much less intense. This is when your body pushes out the placenta and the rest of the umbilical cord.

If there is a delay between the baby’s birth and delivering the placenta, you can nurse your baby. Nipple stimulation through nursing is very effective at helping the uterus to contract and expel the placenta.


The 5 stages of childbirth are natural events that have been endured by thousands of women all across the world. During this process, it is normal for you to go through times of emotional highs and lows, as well as points of physical energy and exhaustion.

Now, while you’re pregnant, you should spend time learning about the phases of labor. This will help you understand what is going to happen to your body, and it gives you knowledge that will provide encouragement during the most trying parts of labor.