Labor: What to Expect

No two births are the same. Some women can be in labor for many hours while others give birth before they even have a chance to get to the hospital.
Still, most births can be broken down into three stages.

Stage 1: Active labor

  • The longest stage of the whole birth
  • Lasts from your first labor contraction until your cervix is fully opened up to 10 centimeters
  • Often starts at home
  • Contractions are at set times that last for about 30 to 45 seconds
  • Contractions might feel like a backache or a strong menstrual cramp
  • At first, the contractions may be mild and happen only once every half hour
  • The contractions will grow stronger and the time in between them will become shorter
  • Your water can break at any time now
    • Take note of when it breaks
    • Birth may still be a long way off
  • Relax by listening to music, taking a bath or getting a back rub
  • Your cervix is opening very slowly
  • You might have as many as 12 hours of contractions to go before you have to leave home or call your midwife
  • Time your contractions carefully
  • When they last for 40 to 60 seconds and happen every three to four minutes - from the start of the first contraction to the start of the next - it's time to get to the hospital or be sure the midwife is on hand
  • By now, your cervix will be dilated/opened to about four to seven centimeters and your contractions will be gaining strength
  • In a hospital you'll go to a birthing room and get hooked up to machines that measure your contractions and your baby's heartbeat
  • If you want pain medicines, you'll likely start receiving them now
  • You can expect to stay like this for a few more hours:
    • About one minute of strong contractions, two to three minutes of rest
    • Repeat
  • Try not to worry about each contraction. Try talking to your partner or a friend, listening to music or breathing deeply
  • It's likely to start getting hard soon
  • You'll need everyone in the room to help you stay focused
  • As your cervix starts opening all the way your contractions will be very painful and happen one after another - so close that one might start before the earlier one ends
  • You might also start throwing up or feeling hot flashes or chills
  • Don't forget: It will all be over soon
  • The hardest stage of labor rarely lasts longer than two hours

Stage 2: The big push

  • When you're fully dilated, it's time to start pushing 
  • You'll still have some contractions, but it's time to push that baby through your birth canal
  • The pain will move from your stomach or back to in and near your pelvis and womb 
  • It's a burning kind of pain, but it's all for a good cause
  • Your doctor will tell you when to push
  • This might last anywhere from about 20 minutes to about two hours
  • Be sure to rest in between pushes
  • You may have a bowel or bladder leak while you're pushing, it's normal
  • You'll know the end is near when your baby crowns
  • The sight of his or her head will send a buzz through the room
  • His or her head might go away again for a few moments, but don't worry
  • Soon your baby will come out into the world
  • The head tends to rock up and back as you push
  • With each push, there will be a little bit of progress that becomes greater as the baby's head begins to pop out
  • After your baby is born, your doctor will cut the cord and check his or her health
  • If the baby is healthy, hospital staff will wipe him or her off, wrap him or her in a warm blanket and put him or her on your chest
  • He or she may even nurse within minutes of being born
  • If all goes well, he or she will be in your arms before you really have a chance to catch your breath

Stage 3: Winding down

  • You still have to birth the placenta, which can take anywhere from three to 30 minutes, but often takes less than 10 minutes
  • You'll feel some small contractions as the placenta comes away from your uterine wall, but they won't be anything like what you've just gone through
  • Your doctor may help things along by gently massaging your stomach
  • When the placenta comes out, you may start shivering or shaking
  • It's normal and nothing to worry about
  • When the placenta is out, there's nothing left to do but rest, get better and enjoy your new baby

[references] Copyright © 2010 LimeHealth

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