Stages of Labour and birth
The stages of labour are a natural process. Lets have a look at what to expect during the three stages of labour and what you can do to support your comfort.
Every mothers labour is unique and special, even from one pregnancy to the next. Sometimes the stages of labour can take just a few hours, in other cases, labour can last a couple of days. You won’t know how labour and childbirth will unfold until it happens. You can prepare, however, by understanding the typical sequence of events.
Stage 1: Early labour and active labour
The first stage of labour begins when you start to feel regular contractions. Contractions cause the cervix to open (dilate) and soften, shorten and thin (effacement). This allows your baby to move into the birth canal. The first stage is the longest of the three stages of labour and it’s actually divided into two phases of its own — early labour (latent phase) and active labour.
During early labour, your cervix dilates and effaces. You’ll feel mild, irregular contractions.
As your cervix begins to open, you might notice a clear, pink or slightly bloody discharge from your vagina. This is likely the mucus plug that blocks the cervical opening during pregnancy.
For first-time mums, the average length of early labour varies from hours to days. It’s often shorter for second or third deliveries.
Until your contractions increase in frequency and intensity, it’s up to you how you manage early labour. For many women, early labor isn’t particularly uncomfortable. Try to stay relaxed, you could:
- Go for a walk
- Take a shower or bath
- Listen to relaxing music
- Try breathing or relaxation techniques taught in childbirth class
- Change positions
Your midwife will instruct you on when to leave for the hospital. If your water breaks or you experience significant vaginal bleeding, call your midwife right away.
During active labour, your cervix will dilate from 6 centimeters to 10 cm. Your contractions will become stronger, closer together and more regular. Your legs might cramp, and you might feel nauseated. You might feel your waters break and you may experience increasing pressure in your back. If you haven’t headed to the hospital yet then now is the time.
If you want it ask for pain medication, your midwife will support you to make the best choice for you and your baby.
Active labour often lasts four to eight hours or more. On average, your cervix will dilate at approximately one centimeter per hour.
Unless you need to be in a specific position to allow for close monitoring of you and your baby, consider these ways to aid your comfort during active labour:
- Change positions
- Roll on a large rubber ball (birthing ball)
- Take a warm shower or bath
- Take a walk, stopping to breathe through contractions
- Have a gentle massage between contractions
- Try breathing and relaxation techniques to combat your growing discomfort. Use what you learned in childbirth class or ask your midwife for suggestions.
If you need to have a C-section, having food in your stomach can lead to complications. If your midwife thinks you might need a C-section, she might recommend small amounts of clear liquids, such as water, ice chips, popsicles and juice, instead of a large, solid meal.
The final part of active labour can be particularly intense and painful. Contractions will come close together and can last 60 to 90 seconds. You’ll experience pressure in your lower back and rectum. Tell your midwife if you feel the urge to push.
If you want to push but you’re not fully dilated, your midewife might ask you to hold back. Pushing too soon could make you tired and cause your cervix to swell, which might delay delivery. Pant or blow your way through the contractions.
Stage 2: The birth of your baby
You’ll deliver your baby during the second stage of labour. It can take from a few minutes up to a few hours or more to push your baby into the world. It might take longer for first-time mums and women who’ve had an epidural.
Your midwife will ask you to bear down during each contraction or tell you when to push. Or you might be asked to push when you feel the need. When you push, don’t hold tension in your face. Bear down and concentrate on pushing where it counts. If possible, experiment with different positions until you find one that feels best. You can push while squatting, sitting, kneeling — even on your hands and knees.
At some point, you might be asked to push more gently or not at all. Slowing down gives your vaginal tissues time to stretch rather than tear. To stay motivated, you might ask to feel the baby’s head between your legs or see it in a mirror.
After your baby’s head is delivered, the rest of the baby’s body will follow shortly. His or her airway will be cleared if necessary and your midwife will then cut the umbilical cord.
Stage 3: Delivery of the placenta
After your baby is born, you’ll likely feel a great sense of relief. You might hold the baby in your arms or on your abdomen. Cherish the moment. But a lot is still happening. During the third stage of labour, you will deliver the placenta.
The placenta is typically delivered in five to 30 minutes, but the process can last as long as an hour. You’ll continue to have mild contractions but they’ll be close together and less painful. You’ll be asked to push one more time to deliver the placenta. You might be given medication before or after the placenta is delivered to encourage uterine contractions and minimize bleeding.
Your midwife will examine the placenta to make sure it’s intact. Any remaining fragments must be removed from the uterus to prevent bleeding and infection. If you’re interested, ask to see the placenta. After you deliver the placenta, your uterus will continue to contract to help it return to its normal size.
Your midwife will also determine whether you need stitches to repair any tears of your vaginal region. If you don’t have anesthesia, you’ll receive an injection of local anesthetic in the area to be stitched.
By now your focus has likely shifted to your baby. You might be oblivious to what’s going on around you, relax, try breast-feeding your baby and enjoy your new precious bundle.
The NCT have written a list of essential items to pack in your hospital bag. Why not check it out here. What to pack?
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