Giving birth is a wonderful thing, but it can also be intimidating and nerve-wracking for women who have never experienced it before. Although there is no way for anyone to tell you exactly how your labor process is going to be, it is possible to help you prepare based on the typical factors that impact every delivery.
If you keep the following three stages of labor in mind, you should be much more prepared for every step between having your water break and giving birth to your newborn daughter or son.
Early Labor Stage
Most women go through early labor for 8 to 12 hours, but it can last up to three days in some rare instances. During this time period, you can expect your cervix to dilate to 3 cm, and your water should break at some point before the next labor stage begins. It may be tempting to rush to the hospital when you first recognize the signs of early labor, but this is not actually necessary in most cases (especially not before your water breaks).
When you enter this stage, you can keep yourself occupied with light tasks or napping during the first few hours. It is important to remain well-hydrated, and you should eat something to help you keep your energy level up. This is also the perfect time to get your hospital bag ready, and you will want to start timing your contractions.
Your contractions are likely to start off relatively mild and inconsistent, but with time, they will become more intense and frequent. Contractions generally feel like a combination of menstrual cramps, lower back pain and tightening or pressure in your pelvis. Early labor usually causes contractions every 5 to 30 minutes, and their duration will range from 30 to 45 seconds. As your contractions increase in intensity and appear closer together, your body will begin progressing toward stage two.
Active Labor Stage
When this stage starts, it will finally be time to go to the hospital and give birth. For most women, active labor is a process that takes approximately three to five hours. Your cervix will dilate up to 7 cm, and each contraction will feel stronger. You can expect active labor contractions to occur every 3 to 5 minutes, and they will last 45 to 60 seconds. This is the primary reason that timing your contractions during the early labor stage is so important — because you will be able to make a more informed decision about when it is actually time to leave your house. If you are planning a home birth, make sure that your midwife is at your house by the time you reach active labor.
You will want to start using your breathing and relaxation techniques during active labor so that it is easier to deal with the discomfort of your contractions. Make sure that you move around whenever possible, and continue to stay hydrated. This is also the perfect time to begin relying more heavily on your support person.
Transition Stage Leads to Giving Birth
Your transition stage will be the most difficult part of labor, but the good news is that it only lasts 30 minutes to 2 hours in most cases. At this point, your cervix will begin dilating all the way to 10 cm, and you can expect very intense and strong contractions. These contractions are usually 60 to 90 seconds in length, and there may be a break of 30 seconds to 2 minutes between them. However, it is also possible for these contractions to overlap. If you have reached this stage without making it to the hospital, it will be time to request emergency medical assistance.
The transition stage leads to the baby’s birth, and this is exactly what you have been waiting for throughout the past nine months. You may experience multiple side effects during this stage, including vomiting, chills, gas, nausea and hot flashes. This is all normal, and you should turn to your support person to help you get through the unpleasant aspects of giving birth.
Make sure that you tell your doctor or midwife when you begin to feel the urge to push. They will help you time everything properly for the safest and most comfortable delivery possible. Your baby will be born during this stage, but your body will still have work to do after this happens. Expect an additional 5 to 30 minutes of contractions as your body prepares to deliver the placenta.
After labor is complete, your newborn has been cleaned up and you are holding your son or daughter in your arms, it will be time to take a moment to appreciate everything that the two of you have just been through together. This pause will give you time to recognize how strong you both are, and it will also provide a moment of peace before the next stage begins: learning how to look after a newborn.
Featured photo credit: George Ruiz via flickr.com