By Dr Michelle LIM Associate Consultant and Associate Professor Tan Thiam Chye, Visiting Consultant, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, KK Women's and Children's Hospital

The duration of labour varies from woman to woman and is generally longer for first-time mothers. There are three distinct stages of labour:

Stage 1

stage 1 of delivery

The dilation process of the cervix is divided into two phases:

Latent Phase

You may experience very non-specific symptoms such as a mild backache, abdominal cramps and passing of a mucus plug, known as"show". You should head to the hospital once your contractions are regular or if your waters break.

Active Phase

You'll probably be admitted into the delivery suite so that both you and your baby can be monitored. Your contractions will increase in frequency and intensity, lasting for up to 45 seconds each. An internal vaginal examination will be performed to assess your cervical dilation, which is expected to progress at about 1cm per hour during the active phase of labour.

Your labour progress will be monitored closely. A variety of pain relief options will be offered at this stage, which is expected to last between eight to 12 hours.

Related: Am I in Labour?

Stage 2

stage 2 of delivery

Delivery of Your Baby

This stage occurs when your cervix has fully dilated to 10cm. Your contractions will be more intense to help push the baby through your birth canal.

The skin of your perineum (the area between your vagina and anus) usually stretches well, but may tear. Your doctor may perform an episiotomy, a cut made to your perineum, to help protect your perineum and prevent it from tearing.

Assisted Delivery:

You may require an assisted delivery at this stage if:

  • The second stage of labour is prolonged and you have been pushing for more than an hour
  • You're too tired and can no longer push effectively
  • Your baby shows signs of distress and delivery needs to be speeded up

Depending on your doctor's preference, he may choose to assist your delivery by:


These look like a large pair of salad servers and will be inserted into your vagina to cup the baby's head, helping to ease it through. The forceps may leave marks on your baby's face but these will fade.

Ventouse/Vacuum Extraction

A suction cup is placed on your baby's head, helping your baby rotate and manoeuvre through the birth canal as you push.

Related: Labour and Delivery — What to Expect

Stage 3

stage 3 of delivery

Delivery of Your Placenta

Your placenta will separate from the wall of the womb a few minutes after the delivery of your baby. You will be given an injection to prevent excessive bleeding. Your doctor will check if the placenta is complete and repair your episiotomy or any perineal tears.

Your baby will then be weighed, measured, given a health check and identity tag. An intramuscular vitamin K injection, a hepatitis B vaccine and BCG vaccine will be administered if you're agreeable.

Note from your doctor: Labour is the most tedious and arduous journey in our life. Overcome it and we can surmount any difficulties!

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Read these next


The New Art and Science of Pregnancy and Childbirth 2008, World Scientific

Healthy Start for your Pregnancy 2012, Health Promotion Board Singapore