The Three Stages of Labor
There are three stages that occur during labor. By learning about them, you can better prepare yourself for what may happen, assist you with your birth plan and provide you with the confidence to assuage anxiety as a result of not knowing what to expect. These stages are for spontaneous vaginal delivery. If you have a planned induction or cesarean, your experience will be different, but that does not make it any less special or unique. Talk to your doctor about what to expect from these birthing experiences.
Stage one has two components, beginning with early labor followed by active labor.
Early Labor: During early labor, you will begin to feel irregular contractions that may be uncomfortable but not painful. Some women may not even notice them at first. This means that your cervix is starting to dilate and efface. You may be in early labor for several hours or several days. The best thing to do during early labor is to relax and focus on comfort. Many women will go for a walk, take a shower or have a snack. You may experience something called a “bloody show,” but do not be alarmed. This is just a sign that your mucus plug has loosened. If you experience significant, heavy bleeding, contact your doctor. Additionally, if your water breaks, call your doctor or head to your hospital or birthing center.
Active Labor: During active labor, your contractions will become stronger, closer and more frequent. This is when your cervix dilates from 6 cm to the full 10 cm. Your water may break during this time, and you might start to feel nausea and extreme discomfort. Just keep breathing and stay calm. If you have not traveled to the hospital yet, now is the time to head that way. The length of time varies for active labor. You may choose to have an epidural at this time, which could slow down your labor process. Transition is the final part of active labor, where your contractions are very close. This is when you may start feeling the urge to push, so you should let your nurse or doctor know. Again, an epidural or other pain relief medication could slow this down.
This may seem surprising, but your baby is born during stage two of delivery. The process of pushing can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. As you push during a contraction, avoid holding tension in your face and neck. Think about where your baby is coming out of and focus your energy on that area. After the head is delivered, followed by the rest of the body, your physician may have to clear your baby’s airway. Afterward, you can hold them in your arms. The umbilical cord will be cut, and other routine steps will follow. Many mothers prefer to hold their baby to do skin-to-skin contact right after delivery. Talk to your healthcare provider about your wants and preferences for the immediate aftermath of your childbirth.
The labor and delivery process is not over once your baby is born. The third and final stage of this process is delivering the placenta. You can still hold your baby while this happens, so just relax and soak in the moment. This is a good time to try establishing breastfeeding if that is your plan, but do not feel stressed. You will feel mild contractions, and your doctor may ask you to push to deliver the placenta. After your placenta delivery, your doctor will massage your abdomen to help your uterus contract. If you experience any tearing or have had an episiotomy, you may need to have stitches at this time.
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