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Labor Day for Dads

Dale Kiefer


Going through labor is no holiday, but it's certainly an adventure. Labor (culminating, of course, in delivery) is the moment you've been waiting for. It's the grand finale that signals the beginning of the end of your near ten month journey through the trials and tribulations of pregnancy. And it ends with the official start of your new lifelong role as daddy.

Are you Ready?

While there's no way you'll ever feel entirely ready for fatherhood (if every couple waited until they felt completely ready for parenthood we'd go extinct) you can prepare for the roller coaster ride that's labor and delivery by educating yourself. By learning what to expect, you'll allay some of your fears and keep anxiety at bay. To that end, here's a rundown of the stages of labor: what they are, what they mean, what you're spouse is liable to experience - and how you can help her through the ordeal.

Unlike the past ten months, when you've endured some occasionally rocky times with little to show for your fortitude, this time your reward will be ultimate: a beautiful new baby who will one day call you dad.

This initial phase begins when the cervix begins to open (dilatation) and ends when it is fully open. Labor generally lasts from 12 to 14 hours for a first birth (for subsequent births it is usually, mercifully, shorter). Regular contractions may signal the start of this phase, but contractions may also be misleading. False labor, typified by Braxton-Hicks contractions, is not uncommon. Although they can be rather uncomfortable, these irregularly spaced contractions do not signify the onset of true labor.

In about ten percent of cases, a woman going into labor is unsure that labor has begun. Consultation with your physician is in order if you suspect labor may have begun, but be aware that watchful waiting may be prescribed until it's clear that true labor has actually commenced. As with so much of pregnancy (and eventually, parenthood) patience is required.

Your role as coach and partner is to advocate for your spouse at every step of the way. Take charge of preparing a bag to take to the hospital. Talk to the nurses or doctors once you arrive and express any concerns or questions you or your wife may have. If you've taken Lamaze classes together, you should be prepared to help with breathing, focus and relaxation techniques as labor progresses. At all times it's up to you to see to her comfort as much as possible. And it doesn't hurt if you develop a thick skin. Labor can be frightening and painful. Rare is the woman who doesn't eventually lash out at the one she love the most. Resist the urge to take it personally. Instead, take it like a man.

The PreGame Show

Several events occur before the onset of labor. They may accompany the beginning of labor, or they may precede it by several days or even weeks. These changes, signaling imminent labor, include lightening. As baby's head settles deep within the pelvis in anticipation of exit mom is likely to experience a sensation that the baby has dropped.

Show, or the discharge of a thick plug of mucus, usually occurs several days before or at the onset of labor. This discharge may be clear, pink, or slightly bloody. There is no cause for alarm unless unusual amounts of blood issue forth.

When her water breaks (rupture of membranes) it's obvious that labor is either imminent, or is already underway. The sac surrounding your baby, which contains cushioning amniotic fluid, has finally ruptured. The resulting discharge of watery fluid may range from a deluge to a continuous trickle. This usually occurs within several hours of the onset of labor to anytime during labor.

Finally, contractions, which feel like anything from bad menstrual cramps to a painful backache, will signal the onset of labor in earnest. Unlike false labor contractions, these periods of tightening and release occur with regularity and increase in frequency over time. Also, unlike false (or Braxton-Hicks) contractions, moving around does not relieve them, and they tend to get stronger as time goes on.

Early Phase

Assuming that you will be admitted to a hospital obstetrical unit, you can expect that your wife will be instructed to remove her clothes and don a gown. She may be given an enema to empty her bowels and she may have some pubic hair removed at this time. An examination to determine the progress of labor will be conducted. Baby's heartbeat will be monitored and an ultrasound may be performed.

The First Stage

The First Stage of labor is divided into three phases. In the early phase the cervix will dilate to about four or five centimeters. Contractions begin at about 15 to 20 minutes apart and last from 60 to 90 seconds. They will gradually become more regular and frequent as this early phase continues, until they are spaced about five or fewer minutes apart.

During the second, active phase of the first stage of labor the cervix will continue to dilate, to about four to eight centimeters. Contractions will continue to increase in intensity and frequency, until they are about three minutes apart and last about 45 seconds.

In the final or transition phase of the first stage, dilatation will proceed until the cervix is eight to ten centimeters. At ten centimeters the cervix is fully dilated. Contractions are now about two minutes apart and they last about 60 seconds.

Second Stage

When the cervix is fully effaced (100 percent thinned out) and dilatation is at ten centimeters the real fun can begin. This is the stage of labor that requires the most effort from your mate, and the most fortitude from you. Usually lasting about two or more hours (although it may certainly be longer or shorter) this is the stage that will end with your baby's delivery. Contractions may slow down, to about two to five minutes apart, and they may last from 60 to 90 seconds. Contractions, while painful, allow baby to move down the birth canal and help position him for optimum fit through the pelvis. Pushing during contractions will begin at this stage.

If you plan to ask for pain relief medications during labor, be sure to inform your doctor of your choice well in advance of active labor. It may be too late to administer the medications she desires once full effacement and dilatation have occurred. All is not lost, though, if your wife is denied pain relief. There may be a reward for enduring such discomfort the old-fashioned way. Recent studies show that babies delivered naturally are more alert at birth, are quicker to orient to mom, and better able to commence breastfeeding than babies delivered after heavy anesthesia has been administered.

Third Stage

The third stage of labor begins immediately after baby has been delivered and ends with the delivery of the placenta. This may take as few as five minutes or as many as 20. Contractions are generally less painful and closer together. During this stage, you will likely be torn between a desire to attend to baby (who will be whisked away for at least a few minutes while he is examined and worked on by staff) and the desire to continue comforting your wife.

In either case, don't' get so wrapped up that you forget to take those initial photographs for posterity. Congratulations! You've delivered your first baby. Now the true labors of parenthood may begin.

Dale is a Contributing writer for The Baby Corner

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stevie Sep 13, 2010 09:41:53 AM ET

My girlfriend is due on the 18th of this month really cant wait where having a boy! roll on the 18th good times ;0)

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