Skip links and keyboard navigation


There are three stages of labour. Understanding the three stages can help you to know what is happening during labour. Labour can be very different from woman to woman.

First Stage

In the first stage of labour, your light contractions change into more painful contractions that follow a rhythm. Your cervix begins to open and will continue to open to around 10 centimetres.

In the very early stages of your contractions, your cervix begins to soften and will become quite thin. This process can go on for hours or even days. During this stage you may feel nothing at all for some time. You may feel minor discomfort but your contractions do not follow a regular pattern.

In early labour you may have:

  • a blood-stained mucus discharge called  a ‘show’
  • lower back pain
  • period-like pain that comes and goes
  • loose bowel motions
  • a sudden gush or a slow leak of fluid from the vagina when your waters break or your membranes rupture. The ‘waters’ should be clear or slightly pink. A greenish or bloody colour can indicate a problem with the baby and you will need to see a doctor or contact your hospital immediately.
  • a desire to vomit (it is quite common to vomit during labour).

Things you can do in early labour:

  • stay at home for as long as you can
  • have regular snacks
  • rest and relax as much as possible, if it’s night time try to sleep
  • try relaxing in a bath or a shower
  • go to the toilet regularly

Remember, your body is preparing to give birth so it is important to remain hydrated, eat healthy snacks and rest as much as possible.

Towards the end of the first stage your contractions will become more painful and will follow more of a rhythm. The time in between the contractions will become less and less. When there is three to five minutes between contractions we recommended you go to the hospital.

Second stage

The second stage of labour is when your cervix is fully dilated and your baby is born. It is important to understand what options are available during this stage. Sometimes despite your and our best efforts, a helping hand may be needed. In your antenatal appointments you should discuss the benefits, risks and alternatives to treatment so you can make informed decisions for you and your baby.

Things to discuss:

  • Pain relief drugs
  • Induction of labour (IOL)
  • Assisted birth techniques
  • Caesarean birth

During this stage you may experience:

  • Longer and stronger contractions (with minimal break times between)
  • Increased pressure
  • The desire to push
  • Shaky cramps, nausea or vomiting
  • A stinging or burning sensation as the baby’s head emerges (known as crowning).

Things you can do to relieve pain in the second stage of labour:

  • Concentrate on your contractions and rest in between
  • Move around as much as possible – try different positions ie walking, sitting or standing
  • Keep up your fluids
  • Try a bath or a shower to help relax and manage the pain

Third Stage

The third stage begins after your baby is born and finishes when the placenta and membranes have been delivered. The uterus will contract mildly to loosen the placenta before releasing it. Immediate breastfeeding can stimulate the placenta to detach naturally.

In the third stage you may have:

  • More contractions to release the placenta
  • A feeling of fullness in your vagina.

The midwife will usually pull on the cord to deliver the placenta but may ask you to help by gently pushing.

Last updated: 30 April 2018