Stages of labour

The information below can help you to feel informed about your labour and birth.

At the Countess we also offer free NCT antenatal classes, please book onto these online sessions by contacting us on 01244 366518, or for further information contact 01244 363646

Every labour and birth are different, but labour is generally split into three separate stages.

The first stage of labour is when contractions get longer, stronger, and more frequent. These contractions help to push your baby down and open (dilate) your cervix so that your baby can come into the world. When your cervix has dilated to about 4cm, you’re in ‘established labour’. Click the link for more information about the first stage of labour:

The second stage of labour starts when your cervix is fully open (dilated) to 10cm and ends when your baby is born. Click the link for more information about the second stage of labour:

The third stage of labour is the time between when you have your baby and when the placenta (afterbirth) comes out. Click the link for more information about the third stage of labour:

The umbilical cord links your placenta to your baby. After your baby has been born, the umbilical cord continues to pulsate. This is because it is still transferring blood, oxygen, and stem cells to your baby while they adjust to being outside the womb. It used to be common practice to cut the umbilical cord straight after your baby is born. Now guidelines recommend that delayed (or optimal) cord clamping is better for your baby. Find out more:


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Monitoring you and your baby in labour

Your midwife will recommend monitoring you and your baby during labour to make sure you're both coping well. This will include using a pinard or a small handheld device called a sonicaid to listen to your baby's heart every 15 minutes. Your midwife may suggest electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) if there are any concerns about you or your baby, or if you choose to have an epidural. Electronic monitoring involves strapping 2 pads to your bump. One pad is used to sensor your contractions and the other is used to measure your baby's heartbeat. These pads are attached to a monitor that shows a graph of your baby's heartbeat and your contractions. Sometimes a clip called a fetal heart monitor can be attached to the baby's head instead. This can give a more accurate measurement of your baby's heartbeat. You can ask to be monitored electronically even if there are no concerns. Having electronic monitoring can sometimes restrict how much you can move around.

If the midwife or doctors caring for you are worried about your baby's heartbeat from looking at the EFM, they may want to do fetal blood sampling (FBS). This test shows how your baby is coping with labour and measures the level of oxygen in their blood. Your midwife or doctor should tell you why they think you need this test and if there are any other options.

FBS involves having a vaginal examination, using an instrument like a speculum. Your healthcare professional will make a scratch on your baby's scalp and take a small amount of blood for testing. After the FBS, your midwife or doctor will explain the results and talk to you about what should happen next. Your options may include the following:

  • carrying on with labour as normal (with electronic monitoring)
  • taking a second sample
  • having an assisted birth or a caesarean section as soon as possible.

If a fetal blood sample cannot be obtained, your midwife and doctors can’t guarantee that your baby is okay. In this case, they will probably recommend an assisted birth or caesarean section as the safest options.


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