The process of childbirth begins with early labor, during which contractions are mild and come at regular intervals, says Mayo Clinic. There may be a brown or blood-tinged discharge from the vagina. The next stage is active labor, when contractions increase in frequency, duration and strength. The intensity of contractions is typically quite painful and requires all of the woman's attention. During the following stage, the woman experiences a strong urge to push and delivers the baby shortly after.
Before a baby can be born, the mother's cervix must flatten and open to approximately 10 centimeters, states Mayo Clinic. The uterus contracts in order to accomplish this. This process varies in length but is typically quicker for women who have previously given birth. The bag of waters cushioning the baby in the uterus usually breaks on its own during labor, but in some cases, the doctor or midwife must break it. During active labor, the woman may require pain medication or anesthesia to cope with the pain.
At the end of active labor, the woman usually feels an intense urge to push, but it is important to wait until the doctor or midwife confirms that the cervix is completely open, otherwise swelling or damage may occur, advises Mayo Clinic. Pushing out the baby may take several minutes or several hours, often taking longer for first-time mothers or those who have an epidural.