The third stage of labour is when the placenta is birthed (usually within 30-60 minutes of the baby being birthed).
Today almost all ‘civilised nations’ who have women birthing in hospitals manage the third stage of labour with an artificial injection of ocytocin/ Pitocin /Syntocin in Australia). The purpose of this is to encourage the placenta to release from the uterus quickly, in order to prevent the occurrence of a Post Partum Haemorrhage.
In natural birth when this stage takes place without intervention (ie the use of Syntocin) the mother and baby experience peak levels of hormones that create feelings of love, pleasure and alertness during the third stage (oxytocin and endorphins). These natural hormones support a deep bond between the mother and baby and produces strong uterine contractions which encourage the separation of the placenta from the uterus, in order to eventually expel the placenta and control post-partum bleeding.
In a physiological birth, the pulsating umbilical cord is left intact while the placenta continues to function. A step-wise shift in blood volume from the placenta to the baby provides an optimal level of oxygen, blood volume and full count of red blood cells, stem cells and immune cells in the baby.
During the first frew minutes following birth, the baby makes the remarkable changes from fetal–placental circulation to independent breathing, circulation and full organ function. The change in the baby’s colour, from ‘white’/ blue/ purple to a reassuring pink, signifies a successful transition from fetal life to life outside the womb.
A natural third stage – sometimes called physiological third stage or ‘expectant’ management – is the culmination of a normal labour and birth with little to no, intervention.
Women choosing a natural birth, third stage and physiological cord closure should give due consideration to their chosen birth environment, the impact of interventions, the knowledge and experience of their care providers and role of other birth attendants.
Along with undisturbed time with the baby, other factors that support a safe natural third stage for the mother include a warm, supportive environment, attention to the mother’s level of comfort, minimal lighting and distraction, delayed or no cord clamping, skin-to-skin contact and the baby initiating breastfeeding.
You can find more information here in other blog articles, and by visiting One World Birth
Buckley, S.J. “Leaving Well Enough Alone: Natural Perspectives on the Third Stage of Labor” , Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: A Doctor’s Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices (2009) New York: Celestial Arts
Mercer, J. Skovgaard, R. & Erickson-Owens, D. “Fetal to neonatal transition: first, do no harm“, Normal Childbirth: Evidence and Debate second edition (2008) edited by Downe, S. pp149-174
Mercer, J. Skovgaard R. Neonatal transitional physiology: a new paradigm. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2002 Mar;15(4):56-75.