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Understand the labor stages

Labor, though diverse and individualized for every person, embodies a remarkable blend of physical endurance, emotional fortitude, and the unwavering support of healthcare providers and loved ones. Throughout this profound experience, the body undergoes extraordinary changes, guiding the progression toward the miraculous moment of bringing new life into the world.

The three stages of labor include:

  • Early labor: This phase involves the onset of contractions, which gradually become longer, stronger, and more frequent. The cervix begins to dilate and efface (thin out) to prepare for childbirth.

  • Active labor: During this phase, contractions intensify, becoming more frequent and lasting longer. The cervix continues to dilate further, typically from around 6 centimeters to about 10 centimeters.

  • Transition phase and delivery: Transition marks the final stretch of labor. Contractions are at their peak intensity, and the cervix fully dilates to allow for the baby's passage through the birth canal. Delivery happens as the baby is pushed out.


Each stage of labor varies in duration and intensity for different individuals, but these key phases define the progression toward childbirth.

Pain management tips for labor

Effective pain management during labor involves various techniques and strategies to help ease discomfort. Some methods include:

  • Breathing techniques: Controlled breathing helps manage pain by promoting relaxation and reducing stress during contractions.

  • Movement and positioning: Changing positions frequently, walking, or using a birthing ball can alleviate pain and assist in labor progression.

  • Massage and counterpressure: Gentle massages or applying pressure on specific areas can offer relief and distract from the intensity of contractions.

  • Water therapy: Immersing in a warm bath or using a shower can provide pain relief and relaxation during labor.

  • Medical interventions: Options like epidurals, analgesics, or other medications can be administered to alleviate severe pain during labor.

  • Support and comfort: Emotional support from a partner, doula, or medical professional, along with a comfortable environment, can significantly impact pain perception.


The effectiveness of pain management methods may vary for each individual, so discussing options with a St. Joseph Health provider and preparing a personalized plan beforehand can contribute to a more comfortable birthing experience.

How to find the best position for you during labor

Optimal labor positions play a crucial role in enhancing comfort and aiding the progression of labor. Some comfortable positions to consider during childbirth include:

  • Upright positions: Standing, walking, or swaying can help utilize gravity, promoting better contractions and potentially speeding up labor.

  • Sitting or leaning forward: Sitting on a birthing ball, leaning on a supportive surface, or using a chair can relieve pressure and provide comfort.

  • Squatting: Squatting opens up the pelvis, allowing more room for the baby to descend and aiding in a smoother labor process.

  • Hands and knees: Being on hands and knees can alleviate back pain and encourage optimal positioning of the baby for delivery.

  • Side-lying: Lying on one side can provide rest and relaxation between contractions while still allowing progress in labor.

  • Supported positions: Using support from a partner, doula, or props like pillows or a birth stool can offer comfort and stability.


We're here to find the right plan for you.

The Labor and Delivery team of St. Joseph Health is honored to be a part of your childbirth experience and we take our responsibility to you and your family extremely seriously.

Each mom experiences childbirth differently. That’s why we offer a labor and delivery experience that is catered to you and keeps you in control.

We encourage you to write out a birth plan ahead of time and include such things as medication, hydration and lighting preferences. We will support you with as little or as much intervention as you would like. If you share your birth plan with your doctor and labor and delivery team we’ll do our best to honor everything we can while keeping the health and safety of you and your baby in careful consideration.

With input from our patients, we’ve created birthing suites in our Labor and Delivery Center that are warm and inviting. With state of the art supplies and equipment, each suite is ready to welcome you and your family with everything you’ll need for a smooth, safe delivery.

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