Best Way to Understand the Second and Third Stage of Labor

When you’re in labor, especially the transition phase, you have no con­cept of time. You just know you’re getting tired and don’t want to labor anymore. Finally, you hear the magic word, “Complete.” Immediately afterward, you’ll sense a change in the mood of the room. The doctor or midwife is preparing for the delivery. You may be saying to yourself, “But I feel the same, what’s different?” The answer is, your cervix has done its job. You are completely opened up, and now your baby’s head can safely come out of the uterus and into the vagina or birth canal. You will be told to push. Pushing helps the baby get lower in the birth canal as quickly as possible.


Getting to this stage is wonderful, but you still have work to do. You won’t be having very hard contractions, but when they come, you’ll need to work with them to push your baby out. Once your baby’s head passes the pubic bone, the skin around the perineum—the soft tissue between the anal opening and vaginal opening—will stretch and bulge. The top of your baby’s head will be visible through the vaginal opening. Your baby is said to be crowning.

Stage of Labor 1 Best Way  to Understand the Second and Third Stage of Labor

Sometimes at this point you and your baby will need a little help. Your doctor or midwife may make an incision in the perineum to ease the strain of the stretched skin and to prevent tearing. This makes the opening larger. The procedure is called an episiotomy. Less commonly, your doc­tor or midwife will carefully place forceps—spoon-shaped tongs—into your vagina to grasp the sides of your baby’s head or place a vacuum device around the top of the baby’s head to help your baby out of the birth canal.

When your baby’s head emerges, the doctor or midwife will support the head and allow the baby to twist to one side or the other. This frees up the shoulders. Once a shoulder is reachable, slight pressure will be put on the perineum to ease the shoulders out of the birth canal. Once the shoulders are out, the hips and legs usually slide out easily. After your baby is out, contractions decrease in intensity and duration.

Stage of Labor Best Way  to Understand the Second and Third Stage of Labor

Third Stage

The third stage of labor and delivery is the delivery of your placenta, or the “afterbirth.” The milder contractions of your uterus cause your placenta to separate from the uterus. You will be asked to give a few more pushes to get the placenta out. Sometimes your doctor or mid­wife may also need to do some firm massaging of your abdomen to get the uterus to release the placenta. Your placenta is inspected visually and sent to the lab for further evaluation.

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