There are three stages you have to go through before you can welcome your baby to the world: dilation of the cervix, pushing and birth, and delivery of the placenta.
To start with, the contractions are infrequent, coming every half hour or so and lasting for around a minute. Gradually they start to intensify and happen more often.
The best way to help your body during the early contractions is not to tense up and to try to relax. During this stage it's important that the pain relief methods you use have a relaxing effect, for example a warm bath or shower, massage and acupuncture. Later you may have gas, pethidine or even an epidural.
When this stage is at its most intense, the contractions will be coming every two minutes and lasting for around one and a half minutes. For first-time mums this first stage of labour usually lasts between 9 and 15 hours. It's the first five centimetres that take the longest to dilate.
The second stage of labour – pushing and birth
When the cervix is dilated to 10 centimetres, it's time for the next phase to start, which involves pushing with the contractions.
During the first stage, the baby has moved down into the birth canal. When the baby's head reaches the pelvic floor and is resting against the rectum, you will feel that you want to push.
It feels as if you've got to do a huge poo.
As you are pushing, the baby is helping with their head. When it presses on the pelvic floor, it stimulates contractions. The length of the second stage of labour is influenced by a lot of factors, for example how tired the mum-to-be is and how relaxed she is.
This stage ends with the miracle - your baby is born. Once your baby is out, the pain stops immediately. Most mums are both relieved and amazed by this. And then the third and final stage of labour starts.
The third stage of labour – delivery of the placenta
Now the placenta detaches from the wall of the womb and after around 10 minutes the womb starts to contract (it’s nothing compared to what you have been through) and you must help to push out the placenta and the membrane which surrounded your baby.
Your midwife will inspect the placenta and make sure it's complete, which is very important. If any of it remains inside the womb, there is a risk of infection and bleeding.