Skip to Content

Having Your Baby: The Labor Process


What is the labor process?

The labor process is a series of 3 stages that your uterus goes through to deliver your baby. It is not known for sure what causes labor to begin. Hormones made by you and your baby and changes in your uterus may help to start labor.

What does my due date mean?

Your due date is a rough idea of when your baby might be born. Most women do not have their baby on the due date. You should not be worried if you do not deliver your baby on your due date. It is normal for labor to start 2 weeks before or after your due date.

How do I get ready for labor?

  • Write down your caregiver's phone number. Ask when you should contact your caregiver.
  • Ask where to go when you are in labor. Your caregiver can help you arrange a hospital or birthing center. Ask if you should call your caregiver before you go.
  • Ask how many minutes apart your contractions should be before you go to the hospital or birthing center.
  • Ask if you should go to the hospital or birthing center if your amniotic sac (water) breaks, but you are not having contractions.
  • Ask if you should contact your caregiver for other reasons, such as bleeding.

How should I plan to get to the hospital or birthing center?

You may want to take a tour of the hospital or birthing center before you go into labor. This may answer many of your questions, and help you know where to go when labor starts. Think about the following as you get ready for your labor and delivery:

  • How far do you live from the hospital or birthing center, and how long will it take you to get there? Remember that the time of day and weather may change how long it takes to get to the hospital or birthing center.
  • How will you get to the hospital or birthing center? Have you made plans to have someone take you?
  • Do you have other children at home who will need to be watched when you go to the hospital or birthing center?
  • Do you have a child safety seat (car seat) for your baby when you bring him home? Ask your caregiver for more information about child safety seats.

How will I know I am in labor?

  • Braxton Hicks contractions: You may have Braxton Hicks contractions at first. These are contractions that come and go, and do not get closer together. They are not true labor contractions and do not cause your cervix to dilate (open). They are usually felt in your abdomen, and not in your back. Braxton Hicks contractions decrease when you walk, rest, sleep, or drink at least 32 ounces of water. Braxton Hicks labor pains usually do not mean that labor is near. You may need a vaginal exam to know if you are really in labor.
  • Steady and frequent contractions: When true labor begins, contractions do not go away when you walk, lie down, or drink water. During true labor, your contractions become more frequent, last longer, and become more intense. In true labor, your contractions will last about 30 to 60 seconds. True contractions cause your cervix to efface (thin) and dilate (open). Time your contractions from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next. Write this information down for 1 hour. Your caregiver will tell you how many minutes apart the contractions should be before you need to go to the hospital or birthing center.

What happens during labor?

Labor has 3 stages:

  • Stage 1: Your uterus contracts to prepare your cervix for delivery and to push your baby out of the birth canal. The contractions help your cervix dilate (open), and efface (thin). This stage ends when your cervix is dilated 10 centimeters and effaced 100%.
  • Stage 2: The uterus continues to contract to push your baby through the birth canal during this stage of labor. This stage ends with the birth of your baby.
  • Stage 3: This stage of labor ends when you deliver the placenta (afterbirth).


Know what to expect to decrease your fears. You and a support person may want to take childbirth classes together to prepare for your baby's birth.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.