What happens during labor

The childbirth process

  • Cervix thins and dilates during labor. As your baby moves through your pelvis, her head usually rotates to face your spine.
  • As your uterus pushes your baby through your pelvis, her head begins to show, or "crown."
  • After most of your baby's head is born, her shoulders move through your pelvis and she begins to rotate again.
  • After your baby's head and shoulders are born, the rest of her body slips out.

When it is time for your baby to be born, the muscular wall of your uterus will start a pattern of tightening then relaxing (known as contractions). This action pulls on your cervix, the opening of your uterus to the vagina. That makes the cervix begin to thin out or efface.

The contractions also push your baby down against the cervix. That makes your cervix open or dilate. Effacement and dilation are the work of the first stage of labor.

When the cervix is fully open so that your baby can pass through, contractions push your baby down your vagina and into the world. Your baby must turn in order to fit through your pelvis. This is the work of the second stage of labor.

After your baby is born, the placenta naturally separates from the wall of your uterus. It usually only takes a few pushes to push out the placenta. This is the third stage of labor.

Learn more about the stages of labor.

Getting ready to cope with labor

There are things you can do during your pregnancy that will help you feel ready to cope with labor. Taking childbirth preparation classes, understanding the labor process, and knowing how to work with your body will make you feel more confident about the birth process.

Many couples find childbirth preparation classes a special time to be together. They can prepare for their new baby and focus on learning what to do during labor and birth.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, seventh edition, ob-ah-90026
First Published: 10/04/2002
Last Reviewed: 12/02/2015