Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Labor and birth: Introduction

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HealthWiki > A Book for Midwives > Labor and birth: Introduction


At the end of pregnancy, a woman’s body begins the work of opening up and pushing the baby out into the world. This work is called labor.

Every labor is different. It can be long or short, very difficult or not. But each labor follows a basic pattern:

  • Contractions (labor pains) open the cervix,
  • the womb pushes the baby down through the vagina,
  • the baby is born, and then
  • the placenta (afterbirth) is born.


In this section of the book, we explain how to get ready for a birth, and some general ways to care for a woman during labor. Then we explain labor in 3 different parts, or stages.

  • Opening, or Stage 1, begins when contractions start to open the cervix. It ends when the cervix is completely open. (See Chapter 11.)
  • Pushing, or Stage 2, begins when the cervix is open. This is usually when the woman wants to push. Stage 2 ends after the birth of the baby. (See Chapter 12.)
  • The birth of the placenta, or Stage 3, begins after the birth of the baby. It ends after the placenta is born. (See Chapter 13.)


Most babies are born without problems, but sometimes things go wrong, and the mother or the baby can be in serious danger. Before most problems happen, there are warning signs. In this section of the book, we explain what warning signs to look for during labor so you can know if the birth is going well or if a problem might happen. We also explain how to treat some problems, and when to bring a woman to the hospital if she has a problem that cannot be helped at home. To ensure the health of women and babies during labor and birth, you, the woman, the family, and the community should plan before the birth what to do in an emergency.

Remember: These are the most important warning signs that mean a woman in labor should get medical help:


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