Many women who are pregnant are anxious about the different stages of labor. Sometimes not knowing what to expect can cause unnecessary nervousness and make for a difficult birth. Having all of the information about what will be happening to your body and to your baby can help to make your delivery as smooth as possible. There are three distinct stages of labor occur for every woman.
In stage one there are actually two sections called early labor and active labor. During early labor, the baby starts to move down into the pelvic cradle to prepare for entering the world. This can also be called “lightening.” The good news is you will be able to breathe better because the baby will no longer be pressing against your diaphragm, but the bad news is you will definitely have to go to the restroom more often as the baby will now be applying more pressure on your bladder.
Your water may also break at this point or it may break before labor begins. Inside the womb, the amniotic sac surrounds and protects the baby. When the membrane of the amniotic sac ruptures, the amniotic fluid will be released. Most women feel this as a trickle of fluid and not the gush of liquid of that often portrayed in movies and on television. Either way, it is important to take note of the fluid’s appearance and smell. Make sure that it is odorless and does not look a greenish color. This can indicate a possible infection. Usually, the fluid is clear, pink or has slight traces of blood in it. If you aren’t sure, call your physician and let them know what you see. It is not something to be taken lightly.
The other thing to note when your water breaks is that you want to be sure not to introduce anything into the vagina at this time – such as tampons. At this point, the baby is less protected so it is important to prevent bacteria from entering the canal.
In active labor, in order for the baby to drop down, the cervix also begins effacement and dilation. When the cervix effaces, this means that it starts to thin out. Normally the cervix is longer and thicker but when the baby begins to drop into the birth canal, it becomes shorter and thins. Effacement is measured in percentages so if you hear the doctor say you are 0% effaced, nothing is happening yet, but when you are 100% effaced, your cervix is as thin as it can get. Dilation is the actual opening of the cervix. When you are completely dilated, your cervix will be open 10 centimeters. Sometimes the nurse might measure in fingers or centimeters. Just be sure to ask for verification so you know how you are progressing. Contractions during this period should feel like they are becoming stronger, lasting longer and occurring more frequently with regularity.
Stage two of the stages of labor is the actual birth of your baby. The birth can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. As the contractions intensify, you may feel a natural urge to push or your doctor may recommend you push even when you do not feel like it. Try different positions if you need to. Not all women deliver their babies lying on their backs with their feet in stirrups. Some kneel, squat or lie on their sides. Do whatever feels best and most comfortable for you. Listen closely to your birth attendants and consider their recommendations to push more or slow down some. Finally, the head of your baby will emerge and the doctor will ensure the umbilical cord is in a safe place. The last push will bring your baby into the world.
The last stage of labor is the delivery of the placenta. About 5 minutes after your baby is born, you will begin to feel contractions again. The placenta usually takes about 10 to 30 minutes to deliver. Just as with your baby, listen to your doctor’s or birth attendant’s instructions regarding when to push or when to relax. Of course, for some women, the stages of labor may be different due to the possibility of needing a caesarean section. Remember, if a c-section is required, you did not fail at childbirth. The goal is to provide your baby the healthiest path to their first breaths and the traditional stages of labor may not be that path.