For the past nine months you have probably been thinking about
giving birth. Chances are you’ve read plenty of books about pregnancy and childbirth and imagined the moment where you finally get to meet your baby. While the word ”labour“ may make it sound like a lot of effort (it is!), giving birth is the greatest and most rewarding piece of work you will ever do.
Labour is the process which leads to the birth of your baby. The first stage of labour is when the cervix, or neck of the uterus starts to soften or ripen. Over a period of time the cervix thins, dilates and starts to open to make room for the baby to pass through from your uterus into the outside world.
The first stage
The earliest stages of labour take place gradually and you may not even notice them. Labour starts with intermittent contractions which thin the cervix and gradually get stronger and more regular. If you are having a hospital birth it’s a good idea to check when you need to come in. Many hospitals won’t admit patients until they are in ‘active’ labour and at least 3 cm dilated.
The first stage of labour continues until the cervix is dilated to 10 centimetres which is big enough for the baby’s head to fit through.
For more information on pain relief during labour click here.
The second stage
The second stage of labour is from when the cervix is fully dilated to when your baby is born. This stage is usually much shorter than the first stage, lasting an average of 30 minutes to an hour.
During the second stage you will still have regular contractions but you will also experience an overwhelming urge to push. With each push your baby’s head will descend further until it reaches the perineum which is the tissue between your vagina and rectum. Your perineum will start to bulge and stretch as the baby’s head eases its way out. This is known as crowning.
It’s a good idea to listen to the instructions from your midwife or obstetrician during crowning. Pushing slowly and gradually can reduce tearing and make recovery from birth easier. Once your baby’s head is out the rest of their body usually comes out within one or two pushes.
The third stage
The third stage is the birth of the placenta. You may hardly notice this stage as you will probably be so distracted looking at your new baby. Your uterus will start to contract again and you may need to gently push to expel the placenta.
There are plenty of different techniques available to help make labour as comfortable as possible from medical intervention to breathing techniques and hypnotism. Many women find that moving around during labour helps alleviate the pain, while others prefer to sit in the bath or shower. It’s a good idea to investigate your options beforehand and have a few techniques in mind to try.
Here is some more information on pain relief options and birthing positions.
Writing a birth plan is part of the process of preparing for labour and birth. Once you have researched your preferences for birth it’s a good idea to write them down and give a copy to whoever is looking after you during labour. This helps ensure that your birth goes the way you want and your wishes are respected and understood.
Although labour can be daunting, once it’s finished you will have a wonderful reward – your baby!