The Stages of Parturition

By Erica Loop
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Even though "labor" and "childbirth" are typical terms used for having a baby, parturition has the same meaning. Parturition is a general word for the birth process. Childbirth is divided into three stages, starting with contractions and ending with delivery of the placenta.

The First Stage

True labor begins when a woman has regular contractions. This stage has two phases. Early and active labor are the terms used for the beginning phases of childbirth, according to the website Baby Center. During early labor, the cervix is thinning and opening. As the cervix dilates and the contractions become stronger, the woman enters into active labor. This phase is typically the longest part of labor, and may last between 12 and 19 hours, notes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Office on Women's Health. Even though it's advisable to call the doctor when labor begins, some women spend early labor at home. When a woman does go to a hospital or birthing center, the medical professionals will regularly check her cervix for dilation and monitor the baby's position. Medications, a numbing epidural or relaxation techniques may help to alleviate some of the pain during this phase.

The Transition Phase

Although not a stage, the transition phase is a major milestone during the labor process. Also known as deceleration, transition is the slowing down of cervical dilation. Transition is the last part of the first stage of childbirth. During this phase, the baby moves farther down into the birth canal, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The mother's contractions are now becoming stronger, longer and more frequent. It is common for a woman to feel nausea, vomit or shake during the final parts of transition. Although they are unpleasant, these symptoms are not signs of a problem and will pass as the woman moves through the childbirth process. Transition is over when the woman's cervix is dilated to 10 centimeters.

The Second Stage

The second stage is commonly known as delivery. It typically lasts anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours, according to, the website of the Office on Women's Health. During this stage the woman is actively pushing the baby out. As the baby moves lower into the birth canal, the woman may feel the need to bear down and push. Having an epidural may dull this sensation and make pushing more of a challenge. The skin between the vagina and perineum may tear during this stage. Some medical professionals try to control tearing by instructing the woman to slow or stop pushing. The doctor may cut this skin to prevent tearing or help speed delivery along. This procedure, known as an episiotomy, is also used if the baby is too large to fit through the opening. This stage ends with the birth of the baby.

The Third Stage

After the baby makes his big debut, the doctor -- or one of the parents -- will cut the umbilical cord. The third stage doesn't involve the baby. During this part of the birth process, the mother must deliver the placenta. The mother will resume feeling contractions anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes after she delivers her baby. Now that the baby no longer needs it, the placenta separates from the uterine wall and begins to work its way out. Pushing out the placenta is typically not as painful as pushing out the baby. This stage is typically over in less than half an hour. After the placenta emerges, stitches may be required if the woman has experienced any tearing or if an episiotomy has been performed.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.