The process of labor and birth is divided into three stages. The first stage is the longest with painful contractions which dilate and efface the cervix. The next stage of labor is the pushing stage, the length of which varies a lot according to the complications that arise in childbirth. The third stage of labor is the delivery of the placenta. Learn everything you need to know about your stages of labor before baby arrives!
Stage one of labor and delivery
The first stage of labor involves dilation (opening of the cervix, measured in cm) and effacement (thinning of the cervix, measured in percentage). Both of them could also happen to some extent in days leading up to labor (during the last few weeks of the third trimester). Effacement generally happens much before dilation. Some women get 80-90% effaced when they are only 1-2 cm dilated.
The early phase
The Early phase of labor is the longest and can last for up to 20 hours for the first time moms. It’s often misinterpreted as false labor because it starts with irregular contractions.
The contractions get regular after a while, lasting for about 30-60 seconds and coming every 5-20 minutes. Most doctors advise the women to stay at home during this stage of labor, as the labor progresses faster when the mother is in an environment she is comfortable in. It’s also advised that she rests as much as possible because the later stages will be quite painful and would exhaust her completely.
During the early phase, your cervix will open to about 3 cm (1 inch).
The pain you may experience during the early phase of stage one will be similar to menstrual cramps, spreading around your abdomen like a tight band. During a contraction, there is a wave of pain across the abdomen. The uterus hardens and tightens intensely, and holds this intensity for a few seconds before relaxing. Some women may feel the pain as a backache instead. The pain of the contractions in the early phase is generally not as severe as that in the active phase. You should be able to talk during the contractions. If you are not able to, contact your health care provider or proceed to the nearest hospital right away.
Some tips for the early stage of labor:
- Go to the restroom and urinate as much as possible. Empty bladder makes it easier for the contractions to do its job.
- Drink plenty of fluids and make sure that you eat a lot of snacks and pack them too. It’s okay to feel a little pukish during labor. The Early phase is the perfect time to explore and find out what foods you would love to have during labor. Stack them up as much as possible.
- Do time your contractions but don’t obsess over it. The more you stress, the more cortisol your body will produce, which would signal the brain that you are trying to fight contractions instead of just letting them flow.
- Do some relaxation exercises, watch a TV show or read a book – Basically, anything which puts you in a good mood needs to be done.
What happens during early stages of labor:
- Your water might break. Make sure that you notice the color and the odor of the fluid. Color should be transparent with a tinge of yellow and the water should be odorless. If your water is greenish, then rush to the hospital immediately.
- You might also notice bloody show or mucus plug coming out of your vagina. Mucus plug shouldn’t have a bright red tinge to it and should not cause bleeding. If there is any bleeding, contact your doctor immediately.
- If your contractions are so strong that you are not even able to talk through it, then make sure that you visit the hospital immediately.
The active phase
Active Phase begins when your cervix has dilated to 3 cm. The contractions start to get really painful by the time you have dilated 4-5 cm and most doctors would recommend to go for an epidural now.
This is the perfect dilation because you are far along where the epidural would not harm you and would act on the pain perfectly and also you will not be numb enough to be not able to feel the muscles you need to work on during pushing stage.
When you start experiencing contractions which you can’t talk through or walk through is the first sign of active labor. You should call your midwife or doctor now to examine the situation.
Active labor lasts till you have dilated 8 cm and the duration is anywhere between 3-5 hours. Contractions last for about 45-60 seconds and come in every 3-5 minutes. The baby’s head will descend further and further into the pelvis.
Active labor is the perfect time to follow all the relaxation techniques that you have learned.
Here are a few non-medical ways to cope with the pain: (P.S.- We are not against Epidural in any way)
Try these breathing exercises.
- Slow Breathing: Exhaling and Inhaling slowly.
- Light Accelerated breathing: Breathing in and out rapidly. Generally preferable during the last stages of labor.
- Transition breathing: Taking 2 breaths rapidly while inhaling and then exhaling slowly.
Some effective positions you can try to ease your pain are:
- Side Lying
- Lying down on hands and knees
- Leaning Forward with support
- Sitting on Toilet
Other ways to relax include
- Make releasing noises like chants, hums, and moans when you feel the need to.
- Take advantage of gravity to help push the baby along: try standing and leaning against your partner, sitting and leaning over a chair, kneeling on all fours, walking slowly, or relaxing in the shower.
- Try to walk in between contractions.
- Sway, rock, and dance to keep your pelvis mobile.
- Consider water therapy: soak in the Jacuzzi, bathtub, or shower.
- Have your partner or a friend give you a massage or offer you support so that you can stand and let gravity do the work.
- Urinate frequently.
- Distract yourself with music, television, or meditation.
The transitional phase
The transitional phase is the shortest but most difficult stages of all. This is when you will wish that someone should either kill you or get this baby out.
This is also not a good time to get an epidural. You can get your last dose at 7 cm. This will help prevent the feeling of numbness in the muscles you need to push.
This is the phase when you will need your support person the most, so make sure to have a good Douala, midwife or nurse by your side.
The transition will last about 30 min-2 hrs.Your cervix will dilate from 8 cm to 10 cm (same size as the baby’s head). Contractions during this phase will last about 60-90 seconds with a 30 second-2 minute rest in between. They can overlap. This is the hardest phase but also the shortest.You might experience hot flashes, chills, shakiness, nausea, and vomiting.
Stage two of labor and delivery:
This stage is the pushing stage. You will naturally feel a strong urge to push by the end of stage 1. It can last from anywhere between 20 minutes to 2 hours.
You will have strong contractions lasting for 45-90 seconds with a gap of 3-5 minutes.
With each contraction and push, your abdominal muscles put pressure on the baby to move through the birth canal. When a contraction finishes, the uterus relaxes and the baby’s head recedes slightly. After a while, the area between your vagina and anus, called the perineum, will start to bulge and the baby’s scalp will become visible. These contractions will move the baby further down and down. You will suddenly feel a strong, burning sensation called ‘crowning’, the process when the baby’s head comes out of the vagina. This is also when you experience the maximum pain.
After the baby’s head is out, the doctor is going to take maximum care to take out baby’s shoulder one by one. The rest of the body is easy.
Most women find this stage better than all the others because the pain is less due to an epidural and they know it’s not long before they are going to meet their little bundle of joy.
Stage three of labor and delivery
The third stage of labor is the delivery of the placenta. Now that you have your newborn baby in your arms, you might not even notice the placenta coming out.
The placenta is delivered by few painless contractions. Contractions separate the placenta from the uterine wall. It’s important that the contractions are proper otherwise the blood vessels which supported the baby and the placenta will continue to bleed profusely. If your contractions are not strong enough, you will be given oxytocin to help speed them up.
Pressure is applied to your uterus so as to push the placenta out. Umbilical Cord is gently pulled to get the placenta to come out.
After the labor is done, you are monitored closely for any complications.
Finally, you are going to experience the motherly love which everyone has been raving about. Something so different and sensitive which you have not experienced.
Describe this amazing moment in one sentence. We would love to hear your experiences.