Stages of Labour

woman in labour with partner

Early Labour

  • This stage is often the longest part of labour and may take several hours to a day.
  • Cervix softens and shortens (effacement)
  • Cervix dilates from 0 to 3 centimetres (cm)

What do I do when labour starts? See the labour decision tree resource. Download: What do I do when labour starts?

Suggestions for you and your support person

  • Continue doing whatever you would normally be doing.
  • Light activities such as walking, staying upright and rocking may distract you from the discomfort.
  • Try to rest or sleep if you can. Try something relaxing such as a warm bath, massage, soothing music or visualization and use pillows to get into a comfortable position.
  • This stage can happen at home or in the hospital.

Active Labour

  • You will have a nurse available to answer questions, coach and guide you and your partner through this stage.
  • Usually lasts several hours
  • Cervix dilates from 3 to 8 cm
  • Contractions are longer, stronger and closer together, intensity has increased and you can no longer concentrate on other activities.

Suggestions for you and your support person

  • Take one contraction at a time and rest in between contractions.
  • Think of things that help you relax or feel soothing. Try focusing on breathing, images, touch or sound.
  • Use slow-paced breathing. Your breathing may speed up a little as contractions get stronger.
  • Start each contraction with a full breath.
  • Massaging your lower back or thighs may be helpful.
  • Change positions frequently and take walks.
  • Eat light, small meals and drink fluids to keep yourself hydrated.


  • A nurse will be present during this stage to help coach you and your partner.
  • Usually the shortest part of labour (30-60 min)
  • 8 cm to full dilation (10 cm)
  • Contractions are very frequent and intense.
  • Some women become irritable, weepy or feel they are not coping well. These are normal reactions.
  • For most women, this is the most difficult part of labour.

Suggestions for you and your support person

  • Continue to focus on breathing, use shallow breathing.
  • May be helpful to make a sound as you breathe out — a gentle sigh or moan.
  • Lower back massage and thigh massage may be helpful.
  • Acknowledge how tough this is; a reminder that the baby is nearly here.
  • Reassurance and encouragement are essential.


  • A nurse will be present at all times to help coach you and your partner while pushing and for the delivery of your baby.
  • May take from 20 minutes to a couple of hours
  • Baby moves down through the vagina.
  • Contractions may not be as frequent.
  • During each contraction, you feel one or more “urges” to push.

Suggestions for you and your support person

  • Find a comfortable, upright position and allow gravity to help you.
  • Breathe comfortably, your breathing may naturally speed up as the contractions build. Pant-blow breathing may be helpful. You may need to hold your breath at the peak of the pushing urge.
  • Try to keep the pelvic floor muscles as relaxed as possible.
  • As the baby’s head emerges, pant or breathe lightly to allow the head to be born slowly and gently.

Delivery of the placenta

  • This will happen 15 to 30 minutes after the delivery of your baby.
  • After the birth of your baby, the uterus will continue to contract.
  • You may be asked to give a small push to help the placenta deliver.
mother and baby