Labour Handout

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Stage Length
*The bars below represent a 24-hour labour
Contractions Dilation Emotions Tips

1st Stage

Early Labour

  • 30-45 seconds each
  • 5-30 minutes apart

0-4 cm

Excited, anxious

Stay at home, rest, take a short walk, or do light activities.

1st Stage

Active Labour

  • 45-60 seconds each
  • 3-5 minutes apart

4-8 cm

More serious, focused

Use different positions, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques.

1st Stage


  • 60-90 seconds each
  • 1-3 minutes apart

8-10 cm

Frustrated, dependent

You may feel nauseous or shaky. Support people need to provide focus.

2nd Stage

Pushing & Birth

  • 60-90 seconds each
  • 3-5 minutes apart

10 cm

Relieved, energized

Use different positions to push. Support people can provide encouragement.

3rd & 4th Stage

Placenta, Recovery, & Breast- feeding

  • Weak, infrequent contractions help deliver the placenta and start the process of involution (shrinking of the uterus).
  • Breastfeeding within the first hour after birth supports long-term breastfeeding and milk

The cervix closes in the days after birth.

Happy, bonding

Hold your baby skin to skin for at least an hour right after birth.

1. When to go to hospital

It’s likely that you won’t need to go to the hospital until your contractions are 5 minutes apart, last 1 minute each, and continue in this pattern for 1 hour. Use 511 as a general guide—always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.

2. How do you know you are in labour
Warm-Up Contractions:

  • Tighten portions of the uterus
  • Don’t usually cause back pressure
  • Ease up over time
  • Have no regular pattern
  • May stop when you change your activity by resting, walking, or taking a warm bath
  • Do not cause the cervix to change

True Labour Contractions:

  • Eventually tighten the entire uterus
  • Usually cause pressure on the lower back and/or lower belly
  • Last longer over time
  • Become stronger over time
  • Grow closer together
  • Do not stop when you change your activity, and walking may make them stronger
  • Cause the cervix to thin and open

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