Stages of Labor
The First Stage:- Pre-Labor
During this stage, your contractions are helping the cervix to efface (thin out) and dilate (open) to form an opening 10 centimeters in width, through which the baby can pass.
At the same time that the cervix is dilating, the contractions are helping move the baby deeper into the pelvis. The first stage has three separate phases, each of which feels very different.
Labor: Early Phase
What happens: Mild contractions begin at 15 to 20 minutes apart and last 60 to 90 seconds. They gradually become more frequent until they are less than five minutes apart, and your cervix has dilated to 4 centimeters.
You may discharge some blood-tinged mucus (called “show”), and your water may break.
How you feel: Anywhere from mildly crampy to pretty uncomfortable when a contraction hits. Still, you’re excited — finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for!
What to do: Call your partner and any family members or friends you want to notify; put your doctor on alert; keep moving (shower or walk, if possible); eat something light (ask your doctor what’s okay); and practice breathing exercises.
Labor: Active Phase
What happens: Contractions become more intense and progress to about three minutes apart and 45 seconds long, as your cervix dilates from 4 to 8 centimeters. Your mucous plug will dislodge if it hasn’t already, and your water will probably break or be ruptured by your obstetrician.
How you feel: Most women find contractions painful now and may want to request medication. You might also be tired between contractions and need to rest.
What to do: Get to the hospital or birthing center. Keep moving around if possible, and use your breathing techniques to help you ease through the contractions.
Labor: Transition Phase
What happens: Contractions occur every two to three minutes and last 60 to 90 seconds as your cervix dilates completely from 8 to 10 centimeters.
How you feel: Contractions are very intense and choppy now. You may feel nauseated, have the chills, sweats, or shakes, and feel the urge to push (but hold off!).
What to do: Focus — you’re almost there! Switch to rapid pant-blow-type breathing and try to just ride the waves. This phase is usually over the fastest.
The Second Stage: Delivery
What happens: Contractions are now two to five minutes apart, each followed by the uncontrollable urge to bear down.
The baby moves through the birth canal until the head begins to crown at the opening of your vagina. The skin in this area may tear a bit, or your doctor may perform an episiotomy. From there, it’s usually just a few pushes and you’re done!
How you feel: Exhausted, relieved, and excited. If the baby is born quickly, you may not even notice the pain anymore. But if pushing takes a while, you may become discouraged.
What to do: Follow your urge to push, and enjoy the moment when your baby is finally born.
The Third Stage: Afterbirth
What happens: Your uterus continues to contract to expel the placenta (your doctor may help it out). Your episiotomy or any tearing will be stitched up. The baby is placed on your abdomen for a few minutes, then examined by the delivery team.
How you feel: Physically drained but giddy with excitement, and eager to see and hold your baby. Your uterus is still contracting, but you’ll barely notice it.
What to do: Relax — you did it!