Stage 1: Labor
Your contractions get real. Mild to moderate ones happen every 5 to 30 minutes and last up to 90 seconds each. They'll peak in intensity then subside until eventually they are frequent and longer. Most doctors suggest waiting until contractions are about 5 minutes apart and last 60 seconds, over the course of an hour, before you head to the hospital.
Active labor begins. Contractions occur every few minutes; the doc may rupture your amniotic sac. Use breathing techniques and request pain meds if you want them. This stage can last several hours.
Your body prepares. Your cervix dilates fully to 10 centimeters. Intense contractions can last up to 90 seconds and come every 30 seconds to 2 minutes. It's the most painful phase but also the shortest, lasting 30 minutes to 2 hours.