The stages of labour – bunkum!

14137069777_256cdb8ebdInspired by a friend’s request to look out an old TPM article to which she wanted to refer in a book that she is writing, I have decided to start an occasional series featuring my favourite extracts from old midwifery articles … some of which are too precious not to be shared over and over again. Here’s the first, and I think it’s very appropriate that it was written by my much-missed friend, Tricia Anderson.


“There are only two definite, unarguable times in this messy, fluid and unpredictable process of childbirth: when the baby is born and when the placenta comes out. The rest is bunkum! Yet our computers insist we fill in boxes that say ‘onset of labour’, ‘onset of second stage’, and ‘total length of labour’. We are not ‘allowed’ to progress to the next page unless all key boxes are completed: there is no option for ‘unsure’ or ‘some time between 1pm and 4pm’! But each time we fill in these boxes with an exact time we are adding to the myth of childbirth as a scientific, modern, quantifiable process… 

It’s time we stopped. If we collude in saying that the three stages of labour exist by filling in those boxes, allowing the computer to generate statistics of the length of labour and so on, then we are part of a deeply ingrained system that gives women and their naughty uteruses false time limits by which they are judged. And we all know the punishment for naughty uteruses: syntocinon and some kind of assisted delivery. It’s a dangerous game.”

– Tricia Anderson

Anderson T (2007). Stages of labour: bunkum! The Practising Midwife 10(8): 54.

photo credit: Forest Path via photopin (license)

1 comment for “The stages of labour – bunkum!

  1. Jenny Johnston
    May 23, 2016 at 10:42 am

    I remember once bring asked to write a woman’s dilatation on the board in Delivery Suite so I wrote “about 4-8 cms at a guess”. Really confounded the staff!

Leave a Reply