Welcome to Labor 101

So after nine months of headaches, trouble sleeping, and the occasional mood swing, baby is finally about to be here! Now, there’s just one more obstacle in the way, but there’s a reason it’s called “labor”. Let’s take on labor together.

With baby’s due date right around the corner, you’re probably pretty prepared. Maybe you’ve packed a hospital bag, taken a birthing class, or decided whether you’ll be banking your baby’s cord blood. But now, the best preparation you can make is knowing what’s ahead, so we’re going to answer a simple question: how exactly does labor work?

Labor is the process through which you deliver baby, and is broken down into three stages:

  1. The first stage is comprised of two phases – Early Labor and Active Labor
  2. Pushing
  3. Delivering the placenta

Early Labor

A woman is considered being in early labor once her cervix begins to dilate, and contractions come fairly regularly and last about 30 to 90 seconds each. Women may also notice passing their mucus plug (known as bloody show) at this point as well. Those who begin early labor prior to week 37 should call their healthcare provider immediately. However, early labor can last up to a couple of days, so while a call to the doctor isn’t the worst idea in the world, many choose to hold off on the race to the delivery room if it starts after 37 weeks.

Active Labor

Active labor begins when your cervical dilation starts to pick up, and when you notice more frequent contractions. Guidelines suggest that you go to the hospital once your contractions are coming 5 minutes apart, and last about a minute or so each. Many women will elect to take the epidural during this stage, as it can get a bit more intense towards the end of active labor. You should avoid pushing during this time, as pushing before full dilation can result in a tear.


Once you’ve reached a full 10 cm dilation, it’ll be time to get baby on out of there! Pushing can be tough, so it’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions to the best of your ability, like slowing down when advised to, or timing your pushes along with your contractions. It can take a few hours to push your baby out, particularly if this is your first delivery or you had an epidural, but sooner or later you’ll see your baby’s head, and the rest will follow!

Delivering the placenta

Once your baby is born, you’ll still need to deliver the placenta, also known as the afterbirth (get it?). This usually only takes a few minutes, and its exit may be accompanied by a bit of blood. It is at this point that, if you’ve chosen to bank your baby’s stem cells, your doctor will use a collection kit to preserve your baby’s cord blood, cord tissue, and placental tissue. Right at this moment in labor is the only time it is possible to collect these potentially life saving stem cells. If you haven’t made arrangements for cord blood banking or want to learn more, we suggest you request an information kit.

Once you’ve cleared the placenta, if you deliver at a hospital, your healthcare provider will evaluate you to make sure that all is well, and determine what, if any, stitches, medications, or other procedures you’ll need.

The bottom line

Nobody ever said labor was easy, but staying calm through it can do wonders for the pain, and can seriously speed up the process as well. Childbirth classes can be an excellent resource for moms-to-be who are a bit worried about labor and delivery.

For more information on the value of cord blood banking, please visit our sponsor Americord.

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