After nine months of doctor’s appointments, baby name debates, baby showers, gender reveals, and other baby preparations, you are likely ready to begin preparing for labor. To make sure you know what you will experience during labor, it’s essential to understand the following stages of labor:
This stage is divided into three phases.
Phase 1: Early Labor
The first phase consists of the start of labor, where the cervix is dilated to 3-6 centimeters. Early labor will last between 8-12 hours. Your water might break within this first stage of labor, which involves the amniotic sac rupturing.
Phase 2: Active Labor
This is the time to start preparing for the hospital, birth center, or home birth, as your contractions will be longer, stronger, and closer together. This continues from 3 centimeters until the cervix is dilated to 7 centimeters.
During this phase of labor, you should expect active labor to last between 3-5 hours. However, if this is your first pregnancy or you agree to an epidural, labor could last longer. During this time, contractions will last between 45-60 seconds with 3-5 minutes to rest.
Phase 3: Transition
Pregnant women will likely rely on support from a person of their choice. While often challenging, this phase is the shortest. This transition period will last between 30 minutes and 2 hours. Your cervix will fully dilate from 8-10 centimeters. This is also when your contractions last between 60 and 90 seconds before experiencing 2 minutes of rest. You might also experience hot flashes, chills, nausea, gas, or vomiting during this time.
Now that you know what to expect during the first stage of labor, it’s time to learn the delivery process.
Your healthcare provider will have you bear down during every contraction and push. This process will take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. First-time mothers and women with an epidural usually take longer to deliver their babies than women who’ve experienced pregnancy more than once or did not get an epidural.
It’s important to get into a comfortable pushing position. These positions include squatting, kneeling, sitting, or getting on your hands and knees. Your provider may ask you to gently push or not push at all. Taking part in this action will give your vaginal tissues time to stretch instead of tearing. Once your baby’s head comes out, the rest of the body will follow soon after. Although your healthcare provider might delay clamping and cutting the umbilical cord, it is not something to worry about. Delaying this decision could increase the flow of nutrient-rich blood from the cord and the placenta to the baby. This raises the baby’s iron stores and minimizes the risk of anemia, which promotes health development and growth.
Now that the baby has arrived, you can relax and process your emotions from enduring this experience. However, you still must deliver the placenta.
Delivering the placenta can take 30 minutes to an hour, but relaxing during the process is important. Although you will continue experiencing contractions, they will be less painful and closer together and help the placenta move to your birth canal. Your healthcare provider will remove leftover bits of your placenta to decrease bleeding and infection. For this experience, your healthcare team might recommend medication. A member of your healthcare team might also massage your abdomen to continue to help minimize bleeding. This is called the fundal massage. A fundal massage is a type of massage that stimulates the uterus and improves uterine health.
Once the placenta is delivered, your uterus will keep contracting to help it return to size. During this time, a healthcare team member will fix any vaginal tearing that happened during your baby’s birth.
Now that you’re at the final stage of labor, you can focus on recovering and spending time with your new baby.
It’s important to remember that this stage requires connecting and bonding with your baby, also known as “The Golden Hour.” This time lasts at least an hour and includes delaying umbilical cord clamping, skin-to-skin contact, and non-urgent tasks such as bathing your baby. This period also involves the performance of newborn assessments on the maternal abdomen and early breastfeeding initiation.
After birth, skin-to-skin contact has been shown to benefit both you and your baby. “Kangaroo care” is a skin-to-skin contact method involving holding your baby to your chest. This activity benefits your baby, especially if they were born early or had a low birth weight. Kangaroo care can also help strengthen your baby’s physical health, assist with breastfeeding, and nurture the bond between you and your new baby. Stage 4 of labor is also when your healthcare team monitors your vitals, the amount of blood loss you are experiencing, etc. This last stage will last between 1-2 hours. Once it passes, your baby will be taken to the newborn nursery while you are taken to the postpartum room.
Now that you’ve made it through the stages of labor, you can focus on continuing to recover, learn the best ways to care for you and your new baby, and begin your lives together.