No two births will be exactly the same, even for the same woman. However, there is a sequence of three stages for your body to follow as it moves through the process.
Stage 1 is when contractions (see below) make the cervix, or neck of the womb, open up (or 'dilate') to about 10 centimetres. This stage is usually the longest and for a first baby often lasts between 12 and 18 hours. For second and subsequent babies it usually lasts between 2 and 10 hours.
Stage 2 is the 'pushing' part of labour when you deliver your baby. It generally lasts between 30 minutes and two hours for a first baby, and between ten minutes and one hour for a subsequent baby.
Stage 3 is when the placenta comes out of the uterus, after the baby has been born, and this can happen with the next couple of contractions or take an hour or more.
Contractions feel like tightenings or waves that spread from low down over the whole bump, getting stronger and then fading away. The muscles at the top of your uterus contract, pressing down on the baby and at the same time, pull upwards on the cervix so that it opens. As labour progresses contractions usually get closer together and last longer.