How Many Stages of Labor are There?

Photo Property of Shooting Chris under a Creative Commons LIcense

Photo Property of Shooting Chris under a Creative Commons LIcense

There are three stages of labor, your trusty pregnancy, labor and birth book tells you. It then goes on to explain that there is early labor, active labor, transition and pushing. But wait. That’s...four things. How do those fit into these supposed three stages of labor?

This question confused me for months. So here’s the short answer. There are three stages of labor - first, second and third - but the first stage of labor actually has three parts.

Now here’s the long answer.

The first stage of labor is divided into early labor, active labor and transition. This is generally the longest stage of labor, which can last 6-16 or more hours. During early labor, you generally dilate from 0-4 centimeters and labor at home. When you hit the active stage of labor - 5-8 centimeters - you usually head to the hospital.  By the time you reach transition (8-10 centimeters), you have come to the hardest, often fastest part of labor and are almost ready to start the second stage of labor.

The second stage of labor is when you start pushing. This part of labor can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 3 hours.


The third stage of labor happens after your baby is born. You grew an entire organ that nurtured, grew and supported your baby but now that your baby is earthside, the placenta needs to come out, too. About 5-30 minutes after the birth of your baby, you will feel the urge to push (or be told to push if you have an epidural). With an easy push or two, the placenta is expelled and you are done with all three stages of labor!