pregnant woman and partner

Second stage of labour

Read about the second stage of labour, including birthing positions, your cervix being fully dilated at 10cm, your baby ‘bearing down’ and what to do in prolonged labour.

This article covers the following topics:
What can you do during the second stage of labour?
Your birth partner’s role
Prolonged labour
Further information

The second stage of labour (also called ‘the pushing stage’) starts when your cervix (the opening of your womb) is fully open (10cm dilated) and ends when your baby is born. At this stage, your baby is moving from your uterus into your vagina and out into the world. The second stage can last from minutes to two hours (usually second or subsequent babies are quicker than the first). Contractions during this stage may be several minutes apart.

What can you do during the second stage of labour?

In the second stage of labour, you should push when you have a contraction and relax when you don't. There are number of things you can try:

  • It is more effective to get two or three short pushes in with each contraction rather than one long push.
  • While you push, try holding your breath for short periods, or blowing out steadily. Try both techniques to see which is best for you.
  • Try saying Yes!
  • In terms of the best birthing positions in the second stage of labour: being upright allows gravity to help you to encourage your baby to move down the birth canal. 
  • Being upright allows gravity to help you.
  • Try not to hold your breath for long periods because this decreases the amount of oxygen available for your baby and your uterus.
  • Relax your pelvic floor (the muscles around the vaginal opening).
  • Some mums find it helpful to reach down and feel how near their baby is - it gives them encouragement and extra energy.

You might want to consider different ways to work with pain during this second stage.

Your birth partner’s role

Your birth partner can:

  • Help get you into the most comfortable position.
  • Encourage you but avoid ‘cheerleading’.
  • Repeat the midwife's advice to you in a calm, steady voice, if you find that useful.

Some mums find it helpful to have their partner hold up a mirror so that they can see the baby being pushed nearer and nearer - again it gives them encouragement.

Prolonged labour

For those wondering how long the second stage of labour is: It is normal for the second stage to take longer if this is your first baby. And every experience is different, depending on the position and size of your baby, and on factors like the size of your pelvis. However, if you feel like nothing's happening or you can't cope, talk to your midwife. She may recommend you rest and have a breather, and may be able to reassure you that you are progressing well – your baby's head might be bearing down, moving along your birth canal a little at a time - and that this phase will soon be over.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, having your baby and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

You will also find useful information on NHS Choices here.