Pippa Hime
4 minute read
9 Jun 2020
2:00 pm

What are the different stages of labour and what to do after the contractions start

Pippa Hime

What can contractions tell you about your stage of labour?


Giving birth is the most natural thing in the world, but this doesn’t mean you can’t be a little nervous and scared. If you are a first-time mommy, you most likely have no idea what will happen when your waters break and you feel the first contractions.

Here is a useful break-down of what you can expect during the early stages of labour.

Labour is divided into stages:

The first stage of labour starts when you first start to experience regular contractions until you are fully dilated and ready to push.

This can be a lengthy stage and it’s divided into different phases:

  • The latent or early stage of labour is from the start of labour until you are around 3cm dilated.
  • Thereafter, you move into the active phase. This continues from when the cervix is 3cm dilated until it is 7cm dilated.

Also see: Tips for nurturing and nourishing your bump with a well-balanced diet

Am I in labour?

All the signs below indicate your baby is on its way:

  • You will begin to feel a deep pressure as the baby drops down, putting pressure on the cervix. This triggers the cervix to start to ripen.
  • As your cervix starts to soften and dilate, your mucus plug will dislodge and pass out your body. You’ll feel this happen and see a mucus, blood-stained discharge.
  • Your waters may break. This is also known as ruptured membranes. This can be either a sudden gush of clear, straw-coloured fluid or a continuous trickle.
  • You may get an upset tummy as the uterus starts to contract. This is because the contraction irritates the bowel – it’s also nature’s way of cleansing your bowel ahead of birth.

Also see: Expecting moms considering home births: What you need to know

How long will it take before my baby comes out?

It’s always useful to think of labour as a marathon and not a sprint. It’s usually long and requires endurance both physically and mentally. Early labour, also known as the latent phase, can last anything from 5-6 hours to a few days before you move into active labour.

Thankfully, this is not the most intense phase of labour and it can often be managed at home. First deliveries are usually longer than second or third births. Uterine contractions are irregular and spaced out at first, but they become more regular and closer together.

Moms share their labour stories:

“I was in labour from the Saturday until Monday afternoon. My daughter was born at 4pm. The doctors kept telling me it was false labour. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my baby’s neck – that’s why my waters didn’t break. I had to have an emergency C-section.”  – Namitha Gopikisson

With my first born, I was only in labour for two hours after being induced, but with second child I was in labour for 11 exhausting hours.” – Mpho Molefe 

“I had contractions for 14 hours (mild until the last hour), and pushed for 25 minutes.” – Lisa Cunliffe

“My baby was born at 36 weeks. Thought I had flu, instead it was pre-eclampsia. I was induced immediately. 12 hours of mild contractions and 72 hours of insane contractions then… ended up having an emergency C-section. So 84 hours total. I have a healthy, beautifully strong 7-month-old girl.” – Suzzanne Klopper Smith

What should I do when my contractions start?

  • Try to remain calm. Stress and anxiety can slow down your labour so stay focused and calm.
  • Focus on breathing slowly and deeply with an extended exhalation to help keep you calm.
  • Try to relax with a  warm bath or shower. Massage also works well coupled with relaxation techniques you may have learnt during your prenatal classes.
  • Avoid watching the clock. Stay distracted by moving around, listening to music or even playing a simple game like Back Gammon to help you get through this lengthy, early stage of labour.
  • Maintain your strength and keep up your energy levels with regular snacks and fluids.

Pippa Hime

Pippa is a Registered Professional Nurse and trained as a Registered Midwife at Chris Hani Baragwanth Hospital. She has extensive experience in all things baby related with a special interest in preparing couples for the exciting journey of parenthood as well as supporting them in the weeks that follow the birth. She and her husband Richard are the proud parents of Becca age 6 and Tom age 4. Pippa has a comprehensive private clinic service that includes Childbirth Education classes, a Well Baby Clinic including Immunization as well as Post Natal and Lactation support. 

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