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Understanding Labor and Delivery: A Parent's Primer

Katlyn Joy |28, August 2012


One of the biggest favors you can do yourself as a parent is to understand what happens during labor and birth to alleviate fears and concerns. This will decrease your anxiety which will in turn help you relax and have an easier labor. Moms who freak out are much more likely to have a negative birth experience and will report a more uncomfortable labor.

How Does Labor Begin?

As the big day approaches, you'll be watching for any signs of labor. However, you won't know for sure labor is beginning until it's definitely underway. Having lower back pain, light cramping, diarrhea, or losing your mucus plug (also called bloody show) are all signs of impending labor. However, that labor may be hours, or possibly even weeks away.

Labor is divided into into three stages, and the first stage is divided into early and active labor. Early labor is the tricky part where you may be in the dark as to whether this is the real thing. Your cervix is thinning, you are having some contractions but they may be light or quite irregular still, and your body is getting ready. Early labor ends when you are 3 centimeters dilated.

By the time active labor arrives, you'll have no doubt that the baby is on the way. Contractions will be regular, closer and harder. This is when your physician will advise you to get to the hospital. At this point you'll be checked to see the baby's progress down the birth canal and how close to fully dilated, or 10 centimeters, you are.

Tips for Stage 1 Labor:

Stay moving as long as possible. Walking, changing positions and taking a shower will give you something to do as well as likely keep labor progressing. Sometimes the physical activity can ease contraction discomforts.

Avoid heavy meals in early labor. Those will definitely come back haunt you during more active labor.

Stay relaxed and focused. Have distractions at the ready such as cards, movies, music or your baby name book if you aren't decided yet.

Let your labor partner know how they can help you and how they can stop annoying you. Both are bound to happen at some point.

Transition is the last part of the first stage of labor and the point where you are most likely to feel overwhelmed. However, thankfully it is also the shortest phases and will likely pass within 30 minutes or maybe less. You will need your labor partner's help most now to stay calm and focused. Just remember you are almost to the finish line now.

What Happens in the 2nd Stage of Labor?

This is where the big moment happens. You finally are given the green light to push. This means your cervix is fully dilated and the baby is completely engaged and ready to be born!

During this stage you will want to have a mirror positioned so you can see the baby crowning. This sounds regal but really means the top of the baby's head is emerging and if you look you'll get your first glimpse of your baby's hair color, or scalp depending on whether yours is a baldie or not.

Find a position that works well for you. You may want to lie on your side with your legs supported, squat on the birthing table, or some women even find hands and knees to work best.

Tips for Stage 2 Labor:

- Rest between pushing bursts and contractions. You'll need your strength especially for first babies. This stage is much shorter on average for second time or later moms.

- Listen to your doctor's directions. If you need to hold off pushing momentarily, blow or pant and try to relax. It can be a difficult proposition but it's important to follow the coaching of the labor room staff.

- Ask for a warm compress to help relieve pain or pressure on the perineum and to help avoid an episiotomy.

Stage 3 Labor

The third stage of labor is when you push out with the contractions the placenta. This usually begins several minutes after birth and will last no more than 30 minutes or perhaps much less.

During this time, the doctor will make any repairs such as stitches, and your vitals will be checked. Expect to feel tired and possibly even chilled or shaky.

You may be given some medication in your IV to help your uterus contract and stop bleeding. This may lead to harder contractions so if they get uncomfortable, let your nurse know.

- Relax and enjoy your new baby. Holding your new little one will probably provide the most pain relief possible. It's hard to notice any discomfort while holding your precious gift.

- Let the staff know if you need anything. Some women are ravenously hungry after birth while others want to sleep like a rock.

- If given the opportunity to shower, make sure you take it slow. Even if you had a natural childbirth and took no drugs, your legs will still likely be wobbly. Never get up by yourself soon after delivery.

Related Articles

Birth Centers for Labor & Delivery

Labor & Delivery Photographers: A New Trend

Guided Imagery Exercise for Labor and Delivery

Breathing for Labor and Delivery: Strategies that Work

Vaginal Delivery After Cesarean (VBAC)


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