The stages of labour: A guide for pregnant mums

Share this article with other mums

Expectant mums, are you nervous yet excited about the birth of your child? Read on to know more about the different stages of labour so you will know what to expect and be fully prepared.

There are three distinct stages of labour, with the final one not being the delivery of your baby, but that of your placenta and membranes.

If you are currently pregnant, it’s good to know exactly what to expect in each stage. This knowledge helps you take control of your labour and birth experience and work with your body, rather than fighting the birthing process.

Here are the three stages of labour and what you can expect in each one.


In the first stage of labour, your cervix will gradually thin, soften and open, in preparation for birth.

First stage

This stage begins when your cervix starts to soften and open, and consists of three sub-stages: latent stage, active labour and transitional phase.

Latent stage

The latent stage is when your cervix first starts to thin out, soften and dilate. This can take place over a few hours or even over a few days. You may start to feel some contractions but they probably won’t be at regular intervals.

Depending on your pain threshold, you may feel some discomfort at this point, or none at all and you may even carry on with your daily activities.

Here are some of the signs of this latent period that you might experience:

  • ‘Bloody show’, which is blood-stained mucus
  • Loose bowel movement
  • Period-like cramps
  • Lower back pain
  • The need to vomit
  • A sudden gush or slow leak of fluid from your vagina, indicating that your waters have broken. This fluid should be clear or pinkish in colour. If you notice greenish or bloody (red) fluid, contact your doctor without delay.

Towards the end of this phase, you will start feeling more tired and restless and the discomfort you feel may intensify. You’ll feel pain in waves — starting gradually, then peaking and then fading away.

You’ll need to let your doctor know what you are experiencing, including the time between each wave of discomfort. Your doctor will tell you whether you should head to hospital or stay at home.

Eventually, the time between each ‘wave’ of discomfort will reduce. When you start experiencing each one with less than three to five minutes break in between them, it’s definitely time to head to the hospital.

The latent phase of labour is all about your body getting ready for birth. During this time, you can build up your energy reserves by having regular, energy-dense snacks, resting as much as possible, having a warm, soothing bath and going to the toilet often, including, if possible, emptying your bowels.


Get your partner actively involved in the birthing process

Active labour

Now, your contractions will be experienced more frequently and powerfully — every three to four minutes and they may last for up to 90 seconds.

You probably won’t be able to talk as you experience these powerful contractions and should instead try to focus on controlling your breathing through relaxation techniques.

Some women find walking about helps with the contractions. You could also try standing under a shower (if your hospital room is equipped with one) with the water pointing at your lower back during the surges/ waves to help ease the discomfort.

Transitional stage

By now, your cervix is around 8cm dilated and you might feel like pushing for the first time. While your contractions may be less frequent, they will be a lot more powerful than before and also last for longer. You may go through a flurry of emotions and might feel cold, sick or even get the shakes.

This is probably the most challenging phase of the birthing process and you might even feel like you just cannot go on. But the good news is that the end is very close and soon, you’ll be holding your little angel in your arms for the first time.

Your baby is almost here! Read about the second stage of labour on the next page.

Sign up for the

Your weekly Pregnancy guide

Receive weekly personalized updates on your pregnancy! More details on the Plus One here

Labour & Delivery Pregnancy