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Stages of labour

Every labour experience is different. Most follow a pattern like the one outlined below.

How long does labour last?

It is hard to know how long your labour will last, but most first babies arrive after 12 to 20 hours.

Labour can be unpredictable. Be prepared to be flexible with your plans.

First stage of labour

Your contractions become stronger and more frequent. The neck of your womb (your cervix) becomes thin and dilates (opens) to 10cm.

Signs your labour has begun

When you arrive in hospital

A midwife assesses you when you arrive. They talk to you about what signs of labour you have. They may offer to do a vaginal (internal) examination to see how your labour is progressing. If you are still in early labour you may be told to go home until labour becomes stronger. If you live far away from hospital this might not be an option.

You will be admitted to the antenatal ward or to the birthing suite. If you are admitted during the night your partner might be asked to go home. This is to allow other mothers and babies to sleep. If you are in strong active labour and near to giving birth, your partner will be allowed to stay with you.

Pain relief in labour

Second stage of labour (giving birth)

You will have strong contractions. You will feel the urge to push. Your midwife will guide you on how to use your breathing when you have a contraction. Your baby will be born at this stage.

Finding a birth position

Staying upright during labour

Third stage of labour (birth of placenta)

You 'birth' the placenta after your baby's birth by pushing it out. The placenta is also know as the afterbirth. You may be offered an injection to help with this.

After labour

You will be resting and spending time with your baby. The first hours after birth are very precious. This is a good time to begin feeding your baby and bonding with them. Your midwife will help you with feeding.

Skin-to-skin contact with newborns

Getting started with breastfeeding

Page last reviewed: 4 January 2023
Next review due: 4 January 2026