The Process of Childbirth
The event you’ve been anticipating for months is around the corner and you’re curious, maybe slightly worried, about the signs of labor. How will it feel? When will it happen? How long will my labor be? How will I know it is time? Every birth is different but we can help you identify some labor signs to watch for.
Signs of Labor
The first step towards labor occurs one to four weeks before baby comes. Before labor can begin, your baby will have to descend into your pelvis to get into position for their big exit. You might find you’re waddling more and taking lots of bathroom breaks due to baby’s new position. Though there is more pressure on your bladder, your lungs should have some more breathing room as baby moves down.
As baby lowers, your body begins its own preparations. The cervix begins to dilate and efface days or weeks before delivery. Your vaginal discharge will increase during the last few weeks of pregnancy to help the passage of the baby. You might feel increased cramps and back pains as your muscles and joints shift and ... Read more
Between the hyperactive bladder and sleepless nights, you are sure to be extra tired in the weeks leading up to delivery. Some women, however, get a sudden burst of energy as birth nears and get the urge to nest. This is appropriately known as the nesting instinct. If you get hit with the mania of nesting, make the most of it but be sensible. Avoid risky business, including lifting, and take breaks to snack and drink water. Remember that you’ll need some of that extra energy to bring baby into the world!
Before true labor starts, you may experience Braxton Hicks contractions, or “false” labor pains. These are irregular contractions that you can think of as your body’s way of rehearsing labor. They might start to occur as early as your fourth month of pregnancy and are absolutely normal.
Nausea, vomiting, or indigestion are common a day or so before labor. You might feel like you have all of the symptoms of a flu without the fever. While not pleasant, this is simply your body’s way of responding to the labor process and major changes happening within the body.
The breaking of your “bag of water” is the classic indicator that labor has begun. This might happen several hours before labor begins or much later in the stages of labor. The fluid-filled sac surrounding your baby ruptures into a continuous trickle or a gush of watery fluid. If you are not already with your provider when your membranes rupture, notify them immediately to describe the time of rupture, color, and amount of fluid.
Stages of Labor
The first stage of labor occurs when regular contractions are felt. At the same time, the cervix is dilating and effacing. You may notice a clear, pink, or slightly bloody discharge. Most likely, this is the mucus plug that has been blocking the cervical opening during the pregnancy. Early labor can last from hours to days. During early labor, it is important to find ways to start relaxed until your contractions increase in frequency and intensity. Going for a walk, taking a shower or bath, and practicing breathing techniques are nice ways to promote comfort. Early labor lasts until the cervix is dilated to 3 centimeters.
During active labor, the cervix dilates from 3 centimeters to 7 centimeters. Contractions become stronger and more frequent. Nausea may increase, along with back pressure. This is a common stage to feel your water break. If you have not arrived at your labor and delivery facility yet, active labor is the time to do it. This is also the stage to ask for pain medication or anesthesia if you want it. Active labor typically lasts four to eight hours but may last longer. On average, the cervix dilates approximately one centimeter per hour.
Changing positions during active labor is often a great way to promote comfort, along with rolling on a birthing ball, warm showers or baths, walks, or a gentle massage.
The last stage of active labor is referred to as transition. Transition is from 7 centimeters until the cervix is fully dilated to 10 centimeters. During transition, contractions are especially intense and painful. Contractions begin to quicken and can last 60 to 90 seconds. Pressure in your back and rectum will increase. Make sure to tell your provider if you feel the urge to push. If you are not fully dilated, your provider might ask you to hold back and wait to push as early pushing can lead to exhaustion and cause the cervix to swell, delaying the delivery. Transition normally lasts 15 to 60 minutes.
The final stage of labor is, of course, the birth of your baby. The last stage can take a few minutes or a few hours. It often takes longer for first-time moms or women who have had an epidural. This is the moment where you push! Your provider will ask you to bear down during contractions and coach you when it’s time to push. They may ask you to push more gently at times or not push at all. This is your provider’s way of helping control the stretching of your vaginal tissues to avoid tearing. After the baby’s head is delivered, the rest of the body follows quickly.
There are many reasons towards the end of pregnancy where women may either want to or need to go into labor. Some providers use a combination of chiropractic, acupuncture, or massage treatments to help jump start labor. Some women may want or need a medical induction. Generally, you come in either the night before you anticipate delivering or the morning of and the doctor or the nurse or the midwife places some type of agent either in your cervix or in your vagina. One can use Cervidil which is a shoe lace that has Prostaglandin in it that lasts for 12 hours or Prostine which is a gel that goes in to your cervix or Misoprostol, a little pill that goes in to your vagina to start the labor process. Once the contractions start coming, then your labor is very similar to when you weren't induced. The doctor may come in after your cervix has started to dilate and break the bag of water to further help the contractions come along and the nurse will periodically check your cervix to see if dilation is progressing. And, after this occurs, Pitocin may also be used to get the contractions closer together and stronger and off you go.