transition during labor

Surviving Transition 101: Exactly How To Get Through The Hardest Part Of Labor

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Have you heard that labor is really hard? Are you wondering if you can do it? 

My name is Suzzie Vehrs and I am a birth doula and childbirth educator. I believe in birth, and I believe in you. In the past year, I have been a part of over 50 births, and I want to share with you something that I have learned about labor and getting through the hardest part of labor. 

There is something you need to know.  Yes, labor is hard, but it is also totally doable. 

Unlike many of the stories you have probably heard, labor actually isn’t hard pain from start to finish. In fact, that really, really hard part everyone talks about – that part that seems almost impossible? It’s actually really short. And it’s called transition. 

When Is Transition? 

While every birth is different and there is a wide variety of normal at every stage, all labor will follow the same route.

You begin with easy contractions that are barely noticeable. Contractions will intensify and hold steady at a manageable, yet challenging pace for a while. You will have a short period where you might wonder if you can do it. Then you will be pushing your baby and holding him or her in your arms. 

The terms for these parts of labor are:

1. Prelabor

2. Early labor

3. Active labor

4. Transition

5. Pushing

6. Birth

7. Delivering the placenta

8. Recovery

Contractions During Labor

Contractions actually feel quite a bit different at each stage of labor. In prelabor, they may feel only like a vague crampiness.

Then, as you go through labor, contractions become more and more intense. Each one having a build-up of sensation,  a peak, a release, and a break in between.

By transition, contractions will feel like huge surges of waves crashing through you one after the other.

When you reach transition, your body is dilating from about an 8 to a 10. And it usually does this very quickly. Transition can be over in just a few contractions. It is almost always less than two hours and sometimes even as short as 5 minutes. 

What Is Transition Like? 

transition during labor

During transition, contractions reach their peak intensity. They last 90 seconds and come almost one right on top of another. Many moms feel flighty, scared, and find that this the most challenging part of labor.

Some moms say it is the moment they doubted if they could do it. That is why so many women who do a natural birth say ‘just when you want to give up, you are almost done.

Transition is intense, but it also comes and goes quickly. 

3 Proven Strategies To Get Through Transition

As a doula, there are 3 main ways I’ve seen women get through transition. They are all very different strategies and can all be very effective. 

1. Surviving transition for the mom who goes internal. 

transition during labor

If you are an internal person, hypnosis or meditation may be a good way to get through transition. Internal moms go into a state so relaxed they almost appear to be sleeping.

Preparation for this deep of relaxation and surrender takes practice beforehand. If this is the strategy you want to prepare for, I recommend taking a hypnobabies or Bradley childbirth education class. 

2. Surviving transition by going external. 

If you are an external person, meditation and relaxation will probably do little to help you. That’s okay! There isn’t one right way to birth.

If meditation isn’t for you, this is when you get loud, you play intense music, and you roar while you move your hips through the contractions. The movement, sound, and energy feedback from the music will keep you grounded and help you move quickly through this phase of labor. 

3. Surviving transition with help. 

Transition is when many moms rely on their partner or doula the most. I’m not going to lie, I thought I would get through transition by going into a deep meditative place. It didn’t happen like that at all for me.

Transition was so intense it knocked the wind out of me and I wanted to escape. Luckily, I was prepared for that. Many women need someone to help guide them through transition. You can have your partner or a doula be prepared for this moment. 

What it looks like when you get through transition with help is having a person ready to guide you. They will hold your hand and eye contact. They will demonstrate breathing techniques. You hold on to them, trust them and follow them.

This may feel like you are holding onto them for dear life because you feel like you might be swallowed by your contractions. That is okay. Transition is short. So getting through it is sometimes just holding on for the ride. Your support people can make a big difference here and literally carry you through this moment. 

How do you know which strategies are best for you to get through transition? 

transition during labor

The great thing about preparing for labor is that you can commit to a strategy or tool, but then, if it’s not what you need at the moment, you put it away and grab another one. If you are very internal, take the hypnobabies course and prepare that way. But, also make a playlist that gets you motivated and positive as well. 

You really won’t know what exactly you will need to get through labor until you are in it. So prepare thoroughly and then enjoy the ride without fear! 

To Summarize How To Get Through Transition 

In the end, you won’t know exactly what you need until you are in transition. However, the way you normally handle stress tells you a lot about how you will probably react during labor.

Think about that. If you normally go inwards to handle stress, then prepare for a quiet, peaceful labor. If you normally go outwards during stress, get that music and movement ready. And don’t be surprised if you need help to get through it. That is totally normal and exactly why you have support around you during birth. 

Enjoy your special day mama! 

Light, love, and laughter, 

Suzzie Vehrs 

About The Author

suzzie vehrs doula

Suzzie Vehrs is a doula, author and Gelato lover. When she is not attending births, you can find her hiking to waterfalls or playing on the beach with her 2 little ones. She is obsessed with helping moms have a positive birth experience. You can find her at 


  • Everyone’s experiences are so different. This is a great article to show that no one is the same and to help you be prepared for what might be right for you.

  • I’m currently 31 weeks and this has been so helpful. Will definitely keep this in mind when I go into labor.

  • I never got to that point of labor. I had everything leading up to that but then needed an emergency C-section due to fetal distress. This is a great resource though for new moms!

  • I love how you pointed out that everyone’s different and there’s no right or wrong way to handle transition. It honestly took me until my 5th to learn how to truly relax through the contractions, for me that made a big difference and shortened my labor time by about half.

  • Thank you for sharing such a great post.
    I love how you talk about switching if you need to and having back up music even if you thought you would go internal as we never really know how we will handle it until we get there.
    I never got this far so it’s nice to understand a little more

  • Suzzie, thank you! This was so insightful, and I never knew anything about the different stages, let alone that Transition was intense but short. I was surprised to learn that there are different like of transitioners as well.

  • My labor came on so quickly, by the time we got to the hospital, I was almost hyperventilating from the pain. I don’t remember progressing through stages because it all happened so fast!

    • I am not sure if a fast labor is good or bad. I imagine it would feel very overwhelming! But on the other hand the pain is over faster and you meet your little one sooner!

  • Both my daughter’s are born via C Section hence I donot have any first hand experience on labor, though while reading this I was amazed to learn about so many different stages and transition.

  • This is a very helpful and interesting article. Thank you for sharing! Your blog helps out so many mothers out there, keep up the amazing work.

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