First stage of childbirth: Labour (which has three phases)
- Latent phase — this is from the first teeny weeny little contraction, until having three to four 60–90 second strong contractions every 10 minutes. Over hours the cervix will soften and become fully effaced (completely shortened so it has no length left) and will then begin to dilatate up to 3–6 cm open. For first babies Latent Labor takes anywhere between a few hours to quite a few overnights. But generally think in terms of it likely being a couple of nights of broken sleep (if any sleep).
- Active phase — from 3–6 cm dilatated through to 8–9 cm dilatated. Contractions are long, strong and frequent, which the woman cannot talk through. Now we’re in business! For first babies, strong active labour takes anywhere from a few hours to half a day. This is the stage at which a woman in normal spontaneous labour gets admitted to the birthing room.
- Advanced active or transition phase — this is the hardest part of the whole journey!. Contractions become tumultuous — four or five unfathomably strong 90-second contractions every 10 minutes, rolling one on top of the next. At the same time pressure in your rectum is increasing (feeling like you need to do a poo — but that’s no poo, that’s your baby’s head descending). For first babies the advanced active transitional phase takes anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or two. And eventually, once fully dilatated, the need to push will become utterly irresistible.
Second stage of childbirth: Birth (the pushing stage)
Somewhere within the next few minutes to two to three hours (usually averaging about one to one and a half hours for a first-birth uterus), while you’re hot, panting and sweaty, your baby’s head will crown (start to emerge) and be born, usually facing your bottom. The baby spontaneously turns sideways for its shoulders to be delivered and, finally, you will meet your new baby in person.
Third stage of childbirth: Afterbirth (the placenta)
The natural expulsion, managed delivery or manual removal of the placenta.
Fourth stage of childbirth: The vibe
I like to add in this unofficial stage, because the first hour or two after a baby is born feels so magical, spiritual, ethereal, sacred. It is like a precious crystal balloon that surrounds the room with a type of holy, consecrated, sanctified ambience . . . but it can shatter and splinter into millions of pieces if it is knocked by too many interruptions (phone calls, texts, visitors, noise, busyness).
Birth is a moment of inclusion — of sharing the joyful event. But it is also a time of seclusion, of protecting the joyful event. So please feel free to wait an hour or two to spread your news, so you can fully absorb the miracle staring back at you, which you hold in your nervous arms. You will never ever get those exquisitely precious minutes back again — blink and they have gone. So cherish, respect and treasure every minute of that very first couple of hours of meeting your newborn.