Childbirth: Labor and Delivery
After a long wait of nine months, you're finally at the last stage of pregnancy, waiting for your little bundle of joy to arrive. While you can never know exactly when your baby will be born, several signs and symptoms indicate you're going into or are already in labor.
Since every birth is different, these signs and symptoms may or may not apply to yours. You might have your own story to tell later, but getting yourself acquainted with labor and its common signs will provide you clues that you're about to meet your baby. Here's all you need to know about childbirth, including early signs and symptoms.
What is Childbirth?
Also called labor and delivery is the process of giving birth to a baby. It starts with contractions known as labor pains and ends with the baby's delivery. There are three stages of childbirth- Cervical Dilation, The Birth of the Baby / Delivery, and Delivery of the Placenta.
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The First Stage: Cervical Dilation
The first stage of labor lasts from when you start feeling regular contractions until you're ready to deliver your baby. It is the longest of the three stages and is further subdivided into early, active, and transitional phases:
#1. Early (Latent) Labor: Also called pre-labor or the latent period. It is usually the least intense phase in which you tend to have mild or acute, 30-90 seconds Braxton Hicks contractions at regular or irregular intervals. Other symptoms may include cramps, backache, and mucus plug discharge. During this phase, your cervix effaced and dilated to 3-4 centimeters.
How long it lasts: The latent phase is unpredictable. It tends to last a few hours to a month or more before delivery.
What you can do: Until your contractions become more frequent and intense, it's best to stay in the comfort of your home. To promote comfort during latent labor, you should:
- Rest as much you can
- Go for a walk
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Take a lukewarm shower or bath
- Change positions frequently
- Listen to relaxing music
- Practice relaxation and breathing techniques
While most women go to the hospital at the end of early labor, others go when they're still in the latent phase.
#2. Active Labor: It's the time when the real work begins. In this phase, the cervix dilates from 3-4 cm to 7 cm, and your contractions become regular, stronger, longer, and more frequent. They are about 3-5 minutes apart and last about 60 to 90 seconds. Other symptoms may include bloody discharge and backache.
How long it lasts: This phase usually lasts about 4-8 hours or more before delivery. It often means that the cervix dilates at least one centimeter per hour in active labor.
What you can do: Get in touch with your doctor or midwife and try these tips:
- Empty your bladder often
- Try changing positions
- Roll on the birthing ball
- Take a lukewarm shower or bath
- Walk between contractions
- Listen to soothing music
- Pee and empty your bowels
- Have regular snacks to maintain your energy levels
- Try relaxation and breathing techniques
- Get a gentle massage
- Relaxing during and between contractions
This phase is when you head to the hospital or birthing center for childbirth. However, if you're delivering at home, your midwife must be with you by this phase.
#3. Transitional (Advanced) Labor: The last part of active labor, called the transitional phase, is short but painful and intense. When you enter this phase, your cervix gets fully dilated from 7 to 10 centimeters. Contractions have now become stronger and more frequent. They come in a span of 2-3 minutes and last about 60-90 seconds. Consequently, you may experience lower back pain and pressure on your rectal area—significant bleeding from your vagina.
How long it lasts: It usually takes 15-60 minutes for the cervix to dilate from 7 to its final 10 centimeters.
What you can do: A few things you can do to ease the transition phase are:
- Try to relax whenever the contraction fades away
- Breathe in through your nose and blow out through your mouth.
- Tell your doctor if you feel a strong urge to push.
Don't push until your doctor instructs you to. Pushing too soon may cause swelling to the cervix, which might delay delivery.
The Second Stage: The Birth of the Baby / Delivery
When your cervix is fully dilated, you enter the second stage of labor, called delivery. This stage continues until your child moves through the birth canal and comes out to the world. During this stage, you'll feel an overwhelming urge to push with intense rectal pressure because contractions push the baby down the birth canal. An episiotomy may be required to get the baby out during this stage.
How long it lasts: It may take from several minutes up to a couple of hours or more to get your baby out of your womb. If it's your first time or you ever have had an epidural, it might take even longer.
What you can do: Push! Your doctor or midwife will tell you when you need to push. These tips can help you push the baby out of your uterus:
- Try to stay relaxed
- Rest between contractions
- Try different positions
- Keep your fluids up
- Take deep breaths in and out between contractions
It is the time when your labor coach or doula proves quite helpful!
The Third Stage: Delivery of the Placenta
After the baby is pulled out, you enter the final stage of labor, where mild contractions help detach the placenta from the uterine wall and pass it out through the vagina. If you had an episiotomy or small tear, the stitching would be done after the placenta is delivered.
How long it lasts: This is the shortest stage of labor and may last from several minutes up to an hour.
What you can do: Relax and cherish the moment! Take as much rest as you can because you have almost reached the end of your journey. If you can, try breastfeeding your little one.