Stages of Labor
Getting ready for the birth of your child can be exciting and a little frightening, but knowing what to expect can help. Some early signs may help you know when the labor process is beginning; however, every woman will experience labor differently. Some women may notice the early signs weeks before, some notice days before and some never notice at all. Often, changes are more evident with a first pregnancy. You may notice when the baby adjusts his position deeper in the womb, a process called lightening. You may experience increased pressure in your abdomen. Dilation of the cervix may occur days or weeks before labor actually begins, but expect to dilate even more as delivery begins.
The first stage of the labor process is divided into three parts. During early labor, the cervix dilates from 0 centimeters to about 3 centimeters. There may be mild to moderate contractions, backache, upset stomach or a sensation of warmth in the abdomen. During active labor, the second part, the cervix dilates to about 7 centimeters. The contractions may become stronger and longer, so don’t feel bad if you ask for medications to relieve the pain. On average, active labor lasts between three to five hours. Some suggestions that may help ease the pain of active labor are breathe deeply, roll on a birthing ball, rock in a rocking chair, take a warm shower or bath or take a walk, stopping to breathe through contractions.
During the last part of early labor, transition, the cervix dilates from 7 centimeters to 10 centimeters. Transition is often the shortest, but most difficult part of the labor process because now the contractions are strongest, and there is little time between each one. Concentrate on just getting through each contraction. Try to delay pushing until you are told that you are fully dilated and it is okay to push. Tearing or bleeding can result if you push too soon. Other things you can do to help are change positions, place a cool cloth on your forehead or get a massage between contractions.
Your baby will be born during the second stage of labor. Now is the time to push! Try different positions to find one that is most comfortable for you. Some women prefer squatting or sitting, and others prefer kneeling. Your physician may ask you to slow pushing for a time. This is to allow your vaginal area time to stretch and will prevent tearing.
There is one final stage after the birth of your baby in which the placenta is delivered. You will continue to have mild contractions, and your doctor may ask you to push one more time. When the placenta is delivered it may be accompanied by blood, but your doctor will determine if there are any further procedures necessary. Now is the time to relax and enjoy your baby!