First Baby: What to Expect

As a first-time mom-to-be, you're probably wondering what will happen during childbirth. While every labor and birth is unique, there are typically 3 stages to a vaginal delivery. Here’s what to expect for each one.

Stage 1: Early and Active Labor

During Early Labor

What to Expect: Your contractions will become increasingly regular, occurring 5 to 30 minutes apart and lasting up to 60 seconds. Try to be patient and rest as much as possible between them.

If you're a first-time mom expecting a single baby and don't have medical complications, it's recommended that you stay home during early labor. Ask your doctor what time you should go to the hospital.

How Long It Will Last: This is the longest stage of labor—for first-time mothers, it can last up to 24 hours or more.

Tips for Dealing With Early Labor

  • For now, stay home and try to relax—walk, change positions or take a shower.
  • Distract yourself with activities, such as reading or watching TV.
  • Call your support person and/or doula (childbirth coach).
  • Eat light snacks and drink clear fluids.
  • Time your contractions. When they get stronger and occur 5 minutes apart for at least 1 hour—or if it becomes difficult to breathe or talk through them—follow your doctor’s instructions about going to the hospital.

Mom after newborn delivery

When to Call Your Doctor

If you experience any of the following, call your doctor or go to the hospital immediately:
  • Your water breaks or you’re having heavy vaginal bleeding.
  • You're having regular contractions less than 5 minutes apart for at least 1 hour.
  • You're concerned that your baby is moving less.

During Active Labor

If you're giving birth for the first time, this period of labor can last 8 hours or more. Your contractions will become stronger, longer and closer together—lasting as long as 60 to 90 seconds and happening 2 to 5 minutes apart.

Tips for Dealing With Active Labor

  • Walk around your hospital room, change positions and use controlled breathing during contractions.
  • Practice visualizations (thinking pleasant or relaxing thoughts) or use aromatherapy (smelling relaxing scents).
  • Ask your support person for a massage or counter-pressure (a pain-relief technique in which steady force is applied to your lower back or hips).
  • Get an epidural (pain blocker applied to the spine) or other pain medication, if you desire.
  • Bring your support person into your hospital room for coaching and encouragement.

Pain Management During Labor and Childbirth

You should discuss whether you want pain medications—and pain-management options—with your doctor.

If Your Baby Is Breech

In the final weeks before birth, most babies move in the womb so their head faces down toward the birth canal. When a baby's bottom or feet point down, it's called breech presentation. If that happens, many women will have a planned cesarean delivery. In some cases, you may still be able to have a vaginal birth—especially if your doctor is able to perform an "external version," which helps turn your baby in the right direction.
Breech newborn being held

If You Need A Cesarean Delivery

Most birth plans include having a vaginal delivery, however, there are times where an unscheduled, or even an emergency, cesarean delivery is necessary.  A cesarean delivery is a procedure where a baby is delivered through a surgical incision in the mother's stomach and uterus.  Your doctor may require you to have an unplanned cesarean delivery for several reasons - labor is not progressing, contractions are too weak, the umbilical cord is pinched or wrapped, abnormal heart beat is detected in the fetus, there is an issue with the placenta, the baby is too large, or the baby is breech.  Understanding what to expect with a cesarean birth will help you better prepare in the event you require this procedure.

To learn more about the risks and benefits of a cesarean delivery, watch the Elective Primary Cesarean video

You can also sign up for these classes:

Stage 2: Transition, Pushing and Birth

What to Expect: When your cervix has expanded fully (dilated to 10 centimeters), you're ready to start pushing. You'll feel pressure, an urge to push and possibly nausea. Your doctor or midwife will tell you when to push.

How Long It Will Last: This is the shortest stage of labor, and typically lasts between several minutes and 4 or more ours until your baby is born.

Tips for Dealing With Labor Pains

As you get closer to your due date, you may feel anxious about what labor will be like. Watch this video to learn how to manage labor pains that begin at home and explore your pain-management choices once you get to the hospital.

Attending childbirth classes at Cedars-Sinai is another way to help ease your labor fears.

Stage 3: After Delivery

What to Expect: Once you've had your baby, you'll continue to experience mild contractions as your body prepares to deliver the placenta (afterbirth). Some women experience chills or shakiness during this stage.

How Long It Will Last: The placenta is usually delivered in 5 to 30 minutes, but this phase may last up to an hour.


You can save time on delivery day by filling out forms in advance. Find out how to pre-register for admission to Cedars-Sinai.