Labour is often talked about in stages and it is helpful as a guide to what to expect. Not everyone’s labour will neatly fit the textbooks, however, and sometimes babies take everyone by surprise.

The first stages will overlap. In early labour, the neck of the womb softens and shortens. It begins to open and as contractions build, labour shifts into the active part of the first stage. The baby’s head (usually) presses downwards against the neck of the womb, causing it to open as the baby gets lower in the pelvis. The second stage has started once the widest part of the baby’s head is making it through the neck of the womb although the baby may already have started moving down while this has happened. 

The end of the second stage is easy to spot, this is when the baby is born. The third stage ends once the placenta is birthed, and the womb has contracted closed.