What is Transition in Labor? Riding The 3 Emotional Waves

What is transition in labor
Picture of Bere Horthy

Bere Horthy

Doula & Registered Nurse

To all the mummas-to-be, no matter where you are in your pregnancy, I’m sure you’ve thought of the exciting and nerve-wracking event. 

We all know what I’m talking about – the labor and birth of your little one. 

Well, buckle up tight because it might well be the wildest ride of your life. 

And right in the heart of this exhilarating rollercoaster is the infamous transition phase.

So, what is transition in labor? 

Consider it the climactic part of the ride that will test your strength, resilience, and bravery as well as the support you have around you. 

But fear not, because, in this ultimate guide, we’re here to equip you with all the knowledge and tools you need to conquer the three emotional waves of labor with confidence. 

By the end of this article, you’ll be ready to ride the waves and navigate the twists and turns like a pro. 

So, let’s dive in. 

It’s time to unlock the secrets of transition.

3 stages of labour
Source: Stocksy

What are the 3 stages of labor?

First stage 

This is the longest stage of labor and is divided into two phases, early and active labor. 

During this stage, contractions begin, and the cervix starts to thin out and open up (dilate). 

Early labor is usually characterized by mild and irregular contractions, while active labor features stronger and more frequent contractions. 

The first stage ends when the cervix is fully dilated at around 10 centimetres, sometimes less. 

Second stage 

This stage begins once the cervix is fully dilated and ends with the birth of the baby. 

It is commonly referred to as the pushing stage – you will feel the overwhelming urge to push. 

During this time, we normally see in movies the mother pushing as hard as she possibly can to help guide the baby through the birth canal. 

However, this is not always the case. 

Many women give birth by simply ‘breathing the baby out’. 

The baby’s head will crown during this stage, and the baby will be born.

Third stage 

The third stage of labor involves the delivery of the placenta. 

After the baby is born, the uterus continues to contract, causing the placenta to separate from the uterine wall. 

It’ll usually be delivered within 10 to 30 minutes after the birth of the baby.

While this is the textbook idea of labor, every mumma’s labor is unique, and the duration and experience of each stage can vary. 

It’s a good idea to discuss the stages of labor with your doula or midwife to better understand what to expect during your labor journey.

Alternatively, you can find a birthing class that will cover all the things you need to know.

What is transition in labor? 

Transition in labor is the intense and exciting phase that marks the final stretch before you meet your little one. 

It’s like reaching the peak of a rollercoaster ride. 

During transition, your cervix fully dilates to 10 centimetres, sometimes less, preparing your body for the pushing stage. 

Emotionally, it’s a whirlwind of feelings ranging from excitement to exhaustion, and even doubts. 

Contractions become stronger, closer together, and may feel overwhelming. 

Transition signifies that your baby’s arrival is near. 

It’s a powerful and transformative phase where your body is doing incredible work to bring new life into the world. 

am i loosing my mind

Am I losing my mind?

As you progress through labor, there are certain signs and feelings that may indicate you’re entering the transition phase. 

One common sensation is the “ring of fire,” which refers to the intense burning or stretching feeling as your baby’s head puts pressure on the birth canal. 

Mummas also commonly feel like they need to do a huge poo… and sometimes they do, but most of the time it’s the baby. 

It can be uncomfortable but is a sign that you’re nearing the end. 

Self-doubt and fear may creep in, and you might feel overwhelmed by the intensity of contractions. 

It’s natural to suddenly want a small, quiet place during this stage, just like other mammals do when giving birth. 

Finding a corner or a cozy spot can provide a sense of security and privacy during this intense moment. 

Remember, these feelings are normal and they won’t last forever. 

Trust in yourself, your support team, and the birthing process.

Navigating the transition rollercoaster – tips and tricks

There are things that you can do leading up to the birth to help you prepare. I’ve put together a list to help you navigate not just transition, but every phase:

  1. Relaxation Techniques 

Practice deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization to promote a sense of calm and relaxation. 

Find what works best for you, whether it’s focusing on a peaceful image or repeating affirmations.

  1. Breathing Exercises

Utilize specific breathing techniques, such as slow deep breaths or rhythmic pattern breathing, to help manage the intensity of contractions. 

Breathing the baby out, also known as “breathing the baby down,” can help prevent complications and allow for a more gentle and controlled birth. 

Even let out a bit of sound if you feel you need to. 

My mummas often find that low guttural ‘mooing’ or humming helps them stay in control.

  1. Movement and Positioning

Explore different positions, such as standing, swaying, or squatting, to find what feels most comfortable during contractions. 

Rocking your hips or using a birth ball can also provide relief and encourage the baby to move into a good position.

Another tool that helps with movement and positioning is the birth sling.

  1. Continuous Support

Surround yourself with a supportive birth team, including your partner, doula, or a trusted friend or family member. 

Their presence and encouragement can provide comfort and emotional support during transition.

  1. Stay Hydrated and Nourished 

Remember to drink water and have some light snacks to maintain energy levels. 

It’s important to stay hydrated and keep your body fueled for the demands of labor. 

There’s actually very little evidence to support the “no eating or drinking” policy that hospitals often enforce upon laboring women.

  1. Utilize Warmth and Massage 

Apply warm compresses or use a warm shower or bath to soothe discomfort. 

Gentle massage from your partner or birth support person can help alleviate tension and promote relaxation. 

Many of my mummas find that hopping into a warm bath relieves the tension of the baby coming through the birth canal. 

Some mummas even say they didn’t feel the dreaded ‘ring of fire’. 

The use of warm water has been shown to help relax your muscles allowing you to stretch to make room for the baby.

Remember, each labor is unique, so it’s important to listen to your body and trust your instincts. 

Stay flexible and open to trying different techniques and positions until you find what works best for you. 

By employing these tips and tricks, you can navigate transition with greater comfort and confidence, promoting a positive and empowering birth experience.

how my partner can help

Partner power – how your support person can help

During transition in labor, the partner may experience a mix of emotions and sensations. 

They might feel overwhelmed, anxious, or even helpless as they witness their loved one go through intense contractions and physical discomfort. 

It’s common for partners to question their ability to provide adequate support during this challenging phase.

To help, partners can:

  1. Stay Calm and Reassuring 

Remind the laboring mumma that they are strong and doing an incredible job. 

Offer words of encouragement and reassurance throughout the process.

  1. Provide Physical Comfort

Massage, counter-pressure, or gentle touch can help alleviate some of the discomforts. 

Use techniques learned in your childbirth classes or follow the guidance of your doula.

  1. Be an Advocate 

Communicate with the birthing team, ensuring the mumma’s voice is heard and any concerns or preferences are addressed. 

This can help create a supportive and empowering environment for the laboring mumma.

  1. Offer Emotional Support 

Listen actively and validate the laboring mumma’s feelings. 

Be present and understanding, providing a safe space for them to express their emotions and fears.

  1. Stay Engaged and Focused 

Remind the laboring mumma to stay focused on their breathing and provide gentle reminders to help them maintain their rhythm and coping techniques.

Remember, every labor experience is unique, so open communication and being responsive to the laboring mumma’s needs is crucial. 

By being a supportive and loving presence, partners can help navigate the transition phase and provide comfort during this intense and transformative time

You’re not alone 

You should now know what is transition in labor, what to look out for and what you can do to prepare. 

You’re not on your own, every mumma who chooses to have a vaginal birth is riding the rollercoaster of childbirth with you. 

And remember, transition marks the final hurdle before you meet your little one. 

With the power of knowledge, the unwavering support of your birth team, and a dash of humor, you’ll be equipped to conquer transition like a boss. 

Embrace the intensity, surrender to the chaos, and trust in your body’s ability to know what to do – it’s all part of the ride.

Bere Horthy

As a doula and nurse, Bere's mission is to empower and educate women, families, and fellow doulas to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum journey.


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