If you have gone through labor or have talked to women about labor, you know that each labor story is unique. Some women experience pain in the abdominal area mostly, while others experience intense labor pains in the back area. Sometimes the water will break early on at stage 1, while there have been babies born completely healthy while in the amniotic sac. Women have gone for days in labor at the hospital while others speed through labor so quickly that they have their babies in the car on the way to the hospital. One thing that all labor stories share is the stages that must happen in order. The rate at which it happens may vary, but the stages are still the same. I’m going to go through a play by play of what happens during labor, stage by stage.
The first stage of labor, often called stage 1 is divided into two substages, early labor, and active labor. Early labor is most often the longest stage of labor. Some women will be in early labor for days while others may speed through stage 1 in hours, without realizing they were in labor.
During early labor, you will begin to feel regular contractions. This means that labor has begun. The contractions will cause the cervix to open, also called dilate, and then soften, shorten and thin, also called effacement. This will allow the baby to move into the birth canal. The first stage is the longest of all the stages. You may notice a clear, pink or slightly bloody discharge from your vagina. This could be the mucus plug that blocked the cervical opening during your pregnancy. During this stage, you may want to go for a walk, take a shower or bath, listen to relaxing music, or change positions. These actions will make you feel more comfortable during this first stage.
The end of stage one brings you into active labor. During this time, the cervix will dilate from 6 centimeters to 10 centimeters. The contractions will become stronger, closer together, and regular. You might feel your legs cramp, and you might feel nauseated. If your water hasn’t broken yet, around this time, you might feel it break. You may also feel increasing pressure in your back as well. If you are planning on a hospital delivery, now is a good time to head there.
Drum Roll Please…Stage 2 is the stage you have been waiting for, the birth of your baby! This stage can take several hours or just a couple of minutes. This is when the pushing begins.
During each contraction, you are going to want to bear down and push. This is when you get to participate in bringing your baby into the outside world actively. Your health care provider or midwife may ask you to push at certain times. You are only going to want to push when a contraction takes place. In between contractions is an excellent time to breath and rest up for the next contraction.
When pushing, make sure to bear down and push with all you’ve got. You may want to try different positions while pushing. Sometimes squatting or kneeling can help the baby work its way down. If you are experiencing intense back labor, you may find that being on your hands and knees will help.
Make sure to listen to your doctor or midwife if they ask you to slow down and push more gently. Tearing may happen if you push too much before your tissues have a chance to stretch. Your healthcare provider may at this point perform an episiotomy. An episiotomy is an incision that is made in the perineum. The perineum is the tissue between the vaginal opening and the anus. An episiotomy widens the opening so that your baby can be pushed out easier.
For a time episiotomies were routine procedures, but now some evidence is showing that natural tears heal quicker and cause less damage. Sometimes, though, in the case of a large baby or when the baby needs to be delivered quickly, an episiotomy is necessary.
The final stage of labor is the delivery of your placenta. This stage will not have the same amount of drama as the other two stages. You may even be holding your baby as you are asked to push a couple more times to get the placenta delivered. I remember my doctor asking me to push very lightly to get the placenta out. One or two light pushes was all it took to deliver the placenta for me. It was no big deal at all, after the pushing that it took to deliver my baby. For me, I remember almost not noticing or caring about the placenta delivery. I was too distracted by holding my daughter to care about the placenta.
Your labor story will be unique to you and your baby. No matter how many labor stories that you have heard or read about, I guarantee that none will be like yours.
Try to enjoy your labor and remember, it won’t last forever even though at times it seems as if it will. You will get through it. Your mother got through it, and so did your grandmother and all the women before her. You are living testimony to the tradition of women getting through labor in your family. Soon you will be retelling all of the details to your family and friends. I like to look at labor as the finish line. You and your body have gone through so much these last nine months. Labor is when you await your big prize – your baby. I hope that this article helps all those moms out there who are gearing up for labor!