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What is my Body Doing during Labor and Childbirth?

By HERWriter
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your body during labor and childbirth MonkeyBusiness Images/PhotoSpin

Today’s society is very much an information-based society. Most people recognize or believe that the more you understand about how something works, the easier it is to handle.

The increase in the use of doulas and midwives is part of this, at least in terms of giving birth. Still, many women don’t really know what their bodies are doing during childbirth.

Stages of Labor: Pre-Labor and Stage 1

While pre-labor or prodromal labor isn’t considered an “official” stage of labor, most every woman experiences it even though they may not realize it. During this stage, the uterus, baby, and cervix are all preparing for birth. (1)

This stage includes what’s known as Braxton Hicks contractions, which are usually irregular and unpredictable in length and timing. They may begin several hours or days before the onset of labor.

During this phase, the cervix moves from its normal posterior position to a forward or anterior position. The cervix also softens and thins (effacement), and may begin to dilate. Many mothers lose the mucus plug that has kept the cervix closed during the pregnancy. (1) The membranes may rupture as well.

In the first stage, active labor is divided in three phases: latent, active and transition.

During the latent phase, your contractions will grow stronger, become more regular and progressively closer together until you are four to five centimeters dilated. This occurs because the baby’s head is putting pressure on the cervix. It is also common to experience loose bowel movements because of the pressure on the rectum. (1)

Once you’ve reached four to five centimeters dilation, the active phase starts.

The purpose of this phase is to further widen the cervix in preparation for pushing. Contractions occur approximately every two minutes and last from 30 to 60 seconds each until you reach nine centimeters. This can take from a couple of hours to up to 10 hours or more. (1)

Transition is the last stage of preparation as the body works towards 10 centimeters dilation. Contractions come one to two minutes apart and can last up to 90 seconds. (1)

Stages of Labor: Stage 2

Once you’ve reached 10 centimeters dilation, the second stage of labor, birth, begins, which also has three phases: Latent, Active, Crowning and Birth.

During the latent phase, your body rests about 20 to 30 minutes as it prepares itself to actually push the baby out. It is sometimes misinterpreted to be a stalled labor.

After this rest, the active phase or pushing begins. It is not uncommon for some women to experience a bowel movement, pass urine or gas, or even vomit because of the pressures exerted on the lower body during this phase. (1) Crowning and birth occur as soon as the baby’s head is visible, and can last from two to 20 minutes.

Stages of Labor: Stage 3

The third and final stage of labor is the delivery of the placenta.

Even though the baby is out, the uterus still contracts. The doctor may push down on the uterus or ask you to breastfeed your baby to help dislodge and expel the placenta. A couple of pushes is usually all it takes.


1. What Happens During Labor. Cass, Pam. Childbirth Solutions. Web. Apr 25, 2012.

2. Signs and Stages of labour. National Health Services. Web. Apr 25, 2012.

Reviewed October 23, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.