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    The Stages of Labor

    The four stages of the childbirth process are based on changes in the uterus and cervix as labor progresses. The beginning and end of each stage are described below:

    First Stage of Labor

    Beginning the First Stage of Labor


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    Second Stage of Labor

    Beginning the Second Stage of Labor

    • Begins when the cervix is completely effaced and dilated and ends with the birth of the baby.


    • Average length for a first time mother ranges from 1 to 4 hours and shorter for subsequent births.


    • Read more about Pushing/Second Stage of Labor

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    Third Stage of Labor

    • Begins with the birth of the baby and ends with the delivery of the placenta.


    • Average length for all vaginal deliveries ranges from 5 to 15 minutes.

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    Fourth Stage of Labor

    • Begins with delivery of the placenta and ends 1 to 2 hours after delivery.

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    How Will I Know If I'm Making Progress?

    The progress of labor and the baby's position is determined by an internal vaginal exam. These exams usually are not done frequently and may or may not be done during a contraction. Internal vaginal exams assess:

    • Cervical effacement (thinning measured as 0 to 100 percent)


    • Cervical dilation (opening measured as 0 to 10 centimeters)


    • Presentation (part of the baby to be born first, i.e. head, buttocks, feet, etc.)


    • Head presentation showing the baby's head closest to the birth canal. Breech presentation showing the baby's buttocks closest to the birth canal. Footling breech presentation showing the baby's foot protruding from the birth canal

    • Position of the baby's presenting part

      Anterior position showing baby facing mother's back. Posterior position showing baby facing mother's front.


    • Station (distance of the presenting part from above or below the mid pelvis in "plus" or "minus" numbers)

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