Stages of Labor: When Labor Starts

Find your care

If you are a new patient seeking prenatal care, please call 310-794-7274. If you are an established patient and need to reach labor and delivery, call 310-825-9111 for Westwood or 424-259-9250 for Santa Monica.

We are proud to be your partner during this exciting moment in your family’s life. Our goal is to offer the highest-quality care in the safest and most supportive environment possible. We hope the following tips will help you understand the stages of labor and delivery, and prepare for your big day.

What to Do When Labor Starts

Pregnant woman sitting on couch with husband

While every woman’s labor experience is unique, expectant mothers undergo the following changes before giving birth:

  • Uterine contractions begin
  • The baby moves down the birth canal
  • The cervix starts to open 

You may have some painful contractions for days or even weeks before giving birth, but labor doesn’t begin until the contractions become regular and strong enough to stretch open the cervix. If you can stay calm during the stages of labor, your contractions will be easier to endure. It’s a good idea to have someone with you during labor to provide comfort and company. Although it may be difficult to relax, there are ways to help keep yourself calm:

  • If your water has not broken, take a warm bath or shower.
  • Try lying on your side with pillows for support while listening to music.
  • Concentrate on natural breath rhythms and let your head, neck, shoulders, arms and legs feel heavy and loose. When a contraction begins, take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Continue to breathe slowly until the contraction passes.
  • Take a walk. Standing and walking helps the baby’s head move lower into the pelvis, which can shorten labor.

When to Go to the Hospital for Contractions & Labor

Your Contractions Are Stronger and Closer Together
If this is your first baby, you should go to the hospital when your contractions feel strong to you, last 45 to 60 seconds each and occur every 3 to 4 minutes for at least 2 hours.

If you've had a baby before, go to the hospital when your contractions have been occurring every 5 minutes for at least 1 hour.

Your Water Breaks
Call your doctor if your water breaks and notify him or her of any color or odor. If you feel water leaking or gushing from the vagina, you should go immediately to the hospital as the water breaking can be one of the last things that happens before your baby is born.

If You Are Bleeding Heavily
It is normal to have a small amount of blood and mucus discharge known as “bloody show” when the cervix starts to open. You do not need to call your doctor for bloody show. Wait until your contractions are stronger and more frequent. Bright red bleeding, which looks like a menstrual period, is not common and may be a sign you need immediate medical care. If you are bleeding heavily, do not stand up or walk. Call 911, lie down and stay on your side until help arrives.

Whom to Call
Please notify your obstetrician when you are going to the hospital. If you are bleeding heavily or you think it is too late to get to the hospital, call 911. If your baby is about to be born, paramedics will assist you. They may also arrange for an ambulance to take you to the hospital. If paramedics decide there is no urgency, they may instruct you to go to the hospital on your own.

To reach the labor and delivery unit at Ronald Regan UCLA Medical Center, please call (310) 267-7560.
To reach labor and delivery unit at UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica, please call hospital information desk at (424) 259-6000. 

Our Labor & Delivery Facilities

Our BirthPlace features elegant birthing rooms that are designed for you to labor, deliver and recover in one comfortable place. Operating rooms also are available for scheduled and emergency C-sections. After your delivery and recovery, you will be moved to our Postpartum Unit, which features comfortable private rooms. (Deluxe upgrade options available at Santa Monica for an extra fee.) Our Well-Baby Nursery is located in our Postpartum Unit. Our Neonatal Intensive-Care Unit (NICU) for premature infants and other newborns who need additional care and monitoring is located near Labor and Delivery.