Key info about labour and birth - Part 1: Stages of labour and birth, by Kirsty Gallacher

Hi, hope this finds everyone well and blooming beautifully.  We talk a lot after class about how some of the things we do in class can help with labour and birth and recently I was asked if I had any kind of handouts to help remind you of these things, which are so easily forgotten once you get home….

So, in response to that request, am in the process of putting together some handouts.  Hopefully they will help you and encourage you to develop a home practice so the breathing, relaxations, positions & movements are really there for you when you need them.

This first installment is simply some info to give context to the practices and help make sense of how things help: 

Part 1:  Stages of Labour & Birth

Medical caregivers and professionals refer to 3 stages of labour: 

•   Stage 1 - the cervix opens/dilates fully, to about 10cm 

•   Stage 2 - the birth of your baby 

•   Stage 3 - the delivery of the placenta 

For those who are hypnobirthing, stage 1 is referred to as the upward stage, and stages 2 & 3 together are referred to as the downward stage.

Stage 1 (Upward) Labour

Medical caregivers often refer to three phases of “established’ 

Stage 1 labour:

•   Early (or Latent) Phase - onset of contractions till the cervix is about 3-4cm dilated 

•   Active Phase - cervix dilates from about 3-4cm to 7-8cm 

•   Transition Phase - cervix fully dilated (approx 10cm), baby ready to move down 
the birth canal 

You may also read about a 4th phase, a kind of preparation for labour (this is the Prodromal phase, often referred to as false starts or false labour). Although not all women experience this phase, it’s fairly common and worth mentioning.  It can last a few days, with contractions coming and going but not get stronger, longer, or closer together - this phase is not considered to be ‘established labour’.

Progression of Stage 1
Before labour, your cervix is long, hard, and thick.  As labour nears, your body releases prostaglandins, which make the cervix 'ripen' (soften) in preparation. Oxytocin is released, causing the uterus to contract.  Along with oxytocin, you release endorphins, our natural opiate, to give us our own inbuilt pain relief…. 

Put simply, when labour starts the contractions move in an upwards direction.  This action causes the already softened cervix to become thin and ring-shaped, and starts to draw the cervix up into the uterus (effaced). Once fully effaced, contractions continue to draw the cervix up to open (dilate) the cervix. The upwards action continues until the cervix is fully drawn up into the outer layer of the uterine muscle, and you are fully dilated, baby’s head is at the top of the birth canal and ready to move his or her way down and into the world….

It’s worth noting that although we like to describe labour as a linear process going from one phase to the next, perhaps because it gives us a sense of control, it might be more helpful if you think of the process as simply having a beginning (labour starts) and an end (holding your baby in your arms) and each journey will unfold in a different way.  Having said that it’s helpful to be familiar with the terminology used.


Part 2:  coming soon……things to do in Early Labour

This week we’re been having a mini focus in class on Early Labour:  breathing, positions & movements.  So look out for part 2, next week……this will be more practical and reflect what we’ve being doing in class.

In the meantime, be well


Kirsty x