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Disclaimer – I don’t pretend to be a doctor and I’m sure many of you ladies out there who have had children have also had different experiences. I know each pregnancy is different . This node is done in very general terms. With that being said…

In terms of childbirth the “labor” stage can be broken down into three distinct phases. Let’s take a look at each one.

The Early Phase – Part 1 – The “Easy” Part

Also known as the latent phase. This is when regular contractions begin and the cervix begins to dilate. These contractions will become stronger as time goes on and the frequency will increase. A typical scenario is for the contractions to start out at about every ten minutes or so and last approximately 30 seconds. They then start increasing in frequency and duration This portion of the early or latent phase is considered over when the cervix has dilated anywhere between 3 to 5 centimeters.

Really, How long will it last?

Well, for first timers, it usually can take anywhere from 12 to 14 hours. It usually shortens in duration as the number of kids you decide to have increases. Ready to move on?

The Early Phase – Part 2 – The Screaming Begins

Known as the “active” phase, this portion of your labor is when things begin speeding up in anticipation of delivery. Think those contractions were bad before? Think again, they will now become more frequent, increase in intensity and last longer. It's at this point when you should begin considering calling your doctor/midwife or what have you.

Oh Mama, How long will this last?

Er, sorry to say but its considered “normal” for this to last another six or more hours. Don’t fret though, it can be a lot shorter, especially if you’ve given birth before.

The Early Phase – Part 3 – The Screaming Gets Louder

Known as the “transition” phase, this is the last part of the Early Phase. I know, your thinking “Thank God” but here’s generally what you can expect. Your contractions are now like a speeding train and seem to come in waves, every two and a half to three minutes apart. Your little ol’ cervix is now dilated anywhere from 8 to 10 centimeters.

Mother of God, please tell me its over.

Sorry, this “transition” phase can last anywhere between a couple of minutes up to a few hours. Again, its usually shorter if you’ve given birth before

The Middle Phase – Here We Go!

Now the “fun” begins, your cervix is fully dilated and the baby is descending. The contractions you were experiencing may actually become further apart. As the uterus contracts, your bundle of joy is making its way down the birth canal. Many women also start getting the urge to “push”. After a while (see next) your baby’s scalp will appear and the urge to push becomes greater. Don’t do it yet! If you push too hard at this stage, you run the risk of “tearing”. (I don’t wanna even think about that). Your doctor/midwife/coach/whatever should encourage you to relax. By doing this, your tissues will begin to stretch and the risk of tearing is reduced. After the baby “crowns” (the widest part of its head is visible) you’ll be asked to push again. After the head has made it long awaited appearance, the baby will be rotated sideways and slipped (with a little help from you of course) from your body.

Please, tell me this won’t last very long.

Depending on ones metabolism, this can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. For you first timers, the average is about an hour. If you’ve had an epidural, chances are it will take longer. Your not done yet though.

The Third Phase – The Afterbirth

Your now in the home stretch but you’ve still got the placenta to consider. Pretty soon after the baby is born, your uterus will begin to contract again. The first few of these should separate it from the uterine wall. A couple of “gentle” pushes later and presto, it should be expelled. After the placenta has been expelled, your uterus should contract and firm up. This is necessary to prevent excessive bleeding.

Please tell me I’m done

Okay, your done, mild contractions usually start up again between 3 to 5 minutes after giving birth. At the most, this third stage can last up to a half an hour.

Now you’ve just got the rest of your life to worry about….