- Pregnancy can be tough, and delivery can be even tougher.
- During early labor, your cervix dilates and you begin to feel contractions. As they increase in length and intensity, you move into active labor. Remember to stay comfortable and hydrated.
- The actual labor: Make sure you're in a position that feels right for you and push!
- Shortly after you deliver your baby, you'll deliver the afterbirth. Now that the baby is out in the world, the placenta's job is done.
Pregnancy can be a tough time for any expecting mother. You may feel a mix of emotions like joy and anxiety as your due date approaches. The movies make it seem so easy! A person’s water breaks, they get rushed to the hospital, and then they have the baby. As it turns out, labor is a lot more complicated in the real world. This article will walk you through the stages of labor, what you can expect, and how you can plan for a successful delivery.
Stage 1 – Dilate and Hydrate
The first stage of labor has two parts: early and active. During early labor, your cervix will dilate, and you will feel contractions. These contractions can last from 30 to 60 seconds each, come every 5 to 20 minutes, and may be accompanied by a light discharge. Keep track of your contractions, as they will become stronger, longer, and more painful as you move into active labor. Contractions can put a lot of pressure on your lower back in this stage. Staying relaxed and finding a position that is comfortable for you will help relieve some of the pressure you may feel.
The two most important things you can do during active labor are contact your doctor and get comfortable. Your doctor can monitor you and let you know when to go to the hospital. Some people find that back rubs and sucking on ice chips (yum!) can be helpful. Relaxation exercises are helpful too, which means this would be a great time to break out those breathing exercises you learned in Lamaze class! You will also want to drink a lot of water, as this will keep you hydrated as you move into the delivery stage. Your doctor will ask you to come in when the contractions get closer together. This would be a good time to talk with your doctor about pain relief options. They will usually use an epidural, but it’s never a bad idea to ask about all the options that are available to you.
Stage 2 – Push!
You’ve made it this far, now all you have to do is keep on pushing – literally! Your cervix will dilate to 10 centimeters. As you continue to breathe and push, you will begin to see the baby’s head peek out or “crown.” Your doula, midwife, or doctor will coach you to continue pushing and breathing to help the baby make its way out of the birth canal.
Delivery can last from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Giving birth for the first time, having a larger baby, and having a baby that is positioned awkwardly in the cervix can make the delivery last longer. For example, most babies rotate right before they are born so that they are facing away from your stomach. Some babies do not rotate, and some babies are even born feet-first in what is known as a “breech birth.” Both of these positions make it harder for the baby to be born and can put a lot of pressure on your cervix. However, there are still things you can do to shorten your delivery.
Ask your support person to help you find a birthing position that is comfortable for you. You can give birth while squatting, kneeling, sitting, or lying back. Giving birth in an upright position like squatting can help relieve pressure and prevent tears in your birth canal. If your baby hasn’t rotated or you are having a breech birth, your doctor may also recommend a C-section as a safe delivery option.
You can also try finding a hand to hold! This is something the movies actually got right. Science has shown that holding a loved one’s hand can reduce the pain you feel during childbirth. After a few breaths, pushes, and hand-squeezes later, you can welcome your bundle of joy into the world!
Right after delivery, the doctor will cut the baby’s umbilical cord. The doctor may also check you for any tearing or bleeding from the strain of childbirth. Pushing can raise your blood pressure, which can increase your chances of heavy bleeding.
Stage 3 – The Golden Hour
You may have feelings of relief, joy, and pride now that your baby is born. If you’re up to it, consider breastfeeding your baby now. Breastfeeding within the first hour of life can help you bond with your baby while providing nutrients that are important for the baby’s growth. After about 5 to 30 minutes, you may begin to feel more contractions. Don’t worry! They are a completely natural sign that you are beginning the afterbirth process. This is when your cervix pushes out the placenta that gave nutrients to your baby while you were pregnant. The afterbirth is usually done within 30 minutes, and you may feel some chills or shakiness.
Your doctor may lightly massage your stomach to help you push the placenta out. Once the afterbirth is complete, your doctor will check once more for any tears or bleeding. After they’re done checking and everything looks normal, you are free to leave the hospital. Get some rest! Pregnancy might be over, but parenthood has just begun!
- Office of Women’s Health. Labor and Birth.
- National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What are the Stages of Labor?
- Pavel Goldstein et al. Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reduction
- Mayo Clinic. Stages of Labor and Birth: Baby, It’s Time!
- Healthline. Baby Positions in Womb: Breech.