Understanding the Stages of Labour & Childbirth

Stages of Labour & Delivery

The process of childbirth is the most beautiful life experience for every woman. Right from carrying the baby to finally getting to hold your baby in your arms, it is a journey on its own. This journey, however, is not the easiest one of them all and requires a lot of patience and understanding.

This long and intricate process has its ups and downs and any complications need to be dealt with maturely and with professional assistance. Hence, it’s important that not just the mother but her close ones to know what to expect, how to deal with it and how they can be of any help to the mother.

Labour is not just one smooth ride, it involves many stages of giving birth and you will surely have questions along the way. A well-informed mother is always prepared to deal with any contingencies and gets through the whole process with little difficulty.

So, here’s a breakdown of the phases of labour which lead to the delivery and how you can cope with normal delivery stages:

Video: A Guide to Stages of Labour & Delivery

First Stage Of Labour

The 1st stage of labour is the longest phase of labour and involves many sub-stages too. This is when the onset of childbirth dawns upon you and your body starts undergoing a myriad of different physical changes.

1. Early Labour Phase

Early labour is basically the phase where your body is preparing itself for childbirth. The signs of early stages of labour are quite evident and it is the first stage of birth. The cervix starts becoming thinner, shorter and starts moving from a more backward position to a more forward position, towards the birthing canal.

2. The Latent Phase

During the latent stage, the contractions are usually 15-20 minutes apart, which varies from person to person. The cervix starts opening and reaches a width of up to 3 cm. The contractions during this stage are usually mild, like a cramp during your period, and are quite manageable as well. Going to a hospital or rushing in a haste isn’t necessary because this phase is not the beginning but only acts as an indicator for the impending labour process. It can be dealt with easily. However, it’s also a sign that you need to start preparing for the tougher stages.

A) What To Do In the Latent Phase

  • Keep yourself calm and composed. Listen to music or do a little reading, whatever works for you and will keep you in a relaxed state of mind.
  • Keep yourself active by doing some basic chores around the house or indulging in any mild form of exercise so that your muscles do not tighten up. Ensure that there is free movement of your limbs.
  • You’ve got to see that you don’t expend all your energy because you do have a crucial few hours ahead of you.
  • Keep yourself amply hydrated and drink lots of water and mineral-rich liquids.
  • Time your contractions so that you know the gap between each one and have it monitored.

B) What To Expect And How Long Will It Last

The time duration of this phase is difficult to map out because it varies greatly from woman to woman. It all depends on the amount your cervix has dilated and the strength and time gap of each contraction. For some women, this stage doesn’t last too long and they move onto the active phase quickly. Some women, on the other hand, take a few hours more to move onto the next phase and experience mild contractions at first. On an average, early labour lasts about 8-12 hours.

What to expect:

  • Dilation of the cervix will go up to 3 cm.
  • The gap between contractions can be anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes and the strength of the contraction will slowly increase with time.
  • Each contraction will last for about 30 to 45 seconds.
  • You will experience cramps (similar to period cramps), pain in your lower back, and also feel your pelvic muscles tightening up.
  • There is a slight chance of your water breaking, if it happens, do not be alarmed.

C) When Experiencing Contractions, Notice These Signs

  • Each contraction is stronger than the previous one
  • The contractions’ duration is also increasing
  • The time gap between them is getting lesser
  • The pattern is somewhat regular or uniform

D) When You Water Breaks, Notice These Signs

  • The time at which it breaks
  • The odour of the fluid
  • The colour of the fluid

E) Tips To Deal With Early Labour

Try your best to make sure that you are not alone during this phase and have a trusted companion with you who can assist and take you through it.

  • Teach them how to time the contractions
  • Make sure that they calm you down
  • It must be someone you trust enough to support you and assist you correctly
  • Ask them to keep you distracted through conversation or some mild activity

3. Active Labour Phase

This is the next sub-stage of early labour. This is when the process of labour fully begins and your body is readying itself to give birth. Everything sees a rapid pick-up of pace; right from the contractions, to the pain and the dilation. You need to be very aware and cautious during this phase.

A) What To Do In Active Labour Phase

  • You need to now move out of the comfort zone of your home and go to the hospital because you are closer to the stage of giving birth.
  • Make sure that you are with someone who can take care of you and carry whatever things are necessary.
  • Do not panic and try to stay in a calm state of mind. This will greatly help in dealing with the pain and the physical symptoms.
  • Adopt relaxing breathing techniques to avoid any nervous tension and to keep your senses alert.
  • Staying hydrated is encouraged and will lubricate your muscles
  • Sign up for an epidural and prepare your body for the more painful contractions that you will be experiencing.
  • Try to stay as physically active as you can but do not push yourself to get tired

B) What To Expect And How Long It Will Last

This stage of labour is more painful but is also slightly shorter in duration. Active labour usually lasts anywhere between 3-6 hours, depending on the physical condition and many other factors. If the active labour phase exceeds this timeline, then you need to get in touch with your doctor and seek help as you might be going through slow labour.

  • Dilation will slowly increase from 3 cm to the targeted width of 10 cm
  • Contractions will be longer in duration, while the time gap between contractions will shorten.
  • The pain will increase and will be harder to bear, which is why an epidural is suggested to deal with it.
  • You might feel anxious and run short of breath, so staying calm and breathing exercises are very essential.

C) Tips To Deal With Active Labor

Whoever is there to assist you needs to

  • Talk to you and keep you as calm as possible
  • Provide you with water, ice chips, or any other thing that you may require
  • Give you moral support and encouragement
  • Provide you with a blanket, a soft pillow and physically support you during the contractions
  • Stay in touch with the doctor and nurses and keep them updated

4. Transition Phase of Labour

This is the bridging phase between the First and Second stages of labour. The body is almost fully prepared to give birth and the dilation increases significantly. This is a very crucial phase because the mother needs to be mentally prepared and has a lot of physical pain to deal with.

A) What To Do In Transition Phase

  • With an epidural, your pain will be slightly lesser and the contractions will not bother you as much. However, if you choose to give birth without an epidural, you’ll have to be fully prepared to deal with the contractions.
  • Depending on your preference, go for a cold or warm pack on your back and forehead to soothe the pain.
  • Switch up your position if you’re feeling too much pressure on any part of the body. The doctor can guide you with which positions are safe to assume.
  • A light massage may also help with relieving stress and keeping you composed.
  • Ask your support person to stay by your side because you can use all the support you can get.

B) What To Expect And How Long It Will Last

  • This stage can last either for a few minutes or for a few hours, again, depending on the mother’s physical state. The duration is unpredictable and varies from person to person.
  • The cervix will be dilated between 8 to 10 cm, getting you sufficiently ready to give birth.
  • The contractions will have little to no gap between them, which is why the pain increases and you will need to stay as calm as possible
  • Feeling any sort of nausea, discomfort, gas discharge or headache is very normal and you should be prepared for it.

C) Tips To Deal With The Transition Phase

Remember that this might be the most painful phase, but it is also usually the shortest one. So, keep your head straight, calm down, breathe well and take the support of your person.

2nd Stage of Labour

This is an important stage of the normal stages of labour as your cervix will be fully dilated and the childbirth process will begin. The doctor will urge you to start “pushing” the baby out, one careful push at the time, and the pain will be hard to deal with.

Your uterus will begin to contract and there might be some crowning as well. This stage is relatively less painful when compared to active labour because the contractions become less frequent and the body is well lubricated. There might be a discharge of blood and fluids, but you must not worry about this and focusing on redirecting your energy towards your pelvis.

1. How Long Will The Second Stage Last?

The 2nd stage of labour can last anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours. If this is your first time giving birth, you are likely to take longer with the process. However, if you have given birth naturally before, your body will adjust to the scenario quicker and even the lubrication will be more. You need to take the help of the doctor/nurses and assume the most comfortable position that will make pushing the baby out easier and quicker. As hard as this might be, you must tell yourself to not give up and keep pushing because your baby is almost here!

3rd Stage of Labour

At this stage, you have successfully given birth to your baby and the hardest part of the whole journey is over. Your breathing begins to slowly normalize and your body’s shivering also reduces to an extent. However, you must note that the process isn’t over yet and there still is a part of the membrane called the “Placenta” that needs to be released from the body. There will also be a significant amount of bloody discharge from the body. However, this is a good thing and you mustn’t be alarmed or worried. Active management of the third stage of labour by a professional is important.

1. How Long Will The Third Stage Last?

The 3rd stage of labour lasts from 5 to 15 minutes after your baby is born and is probably the shortest of the stages of childbirth. Your uterus will then begin contracting and the placenta will be pushed out. This process is called the “afterbirth”.

The doctor will make sure that no part of the membrane is left behind and that the blood that is released from the placenta peeling off is also channelled out and not left behind. Although there is an option to artificially induce this process and make it a quicker one, some mothers prefer that this happens naturally unless the body really requires it.

Fourth Stage of Labour

Once you have held your baby and had that important skin-to-skin contact, your baby will be taken to get cleaned and to be kept under observation. This is when you need to focus on an important phase: Recovery. This is the last stage of pregnancy delivery.

You need to remember that your body has just been through a very tiring and gruelling experience and it needs to rest as much as possible. Your doctor will make sure that your blood loss is compensated for and you will also receive hormone and glucose drips to replenish your body fluids. This helps you move towards a total speedy recovery.

If you’re feeling extremely fatigued and weak, that’s completely normal. Now that the hard part of the journey is done, you need to focus on getting stronger and healthier so that you can tend to your newborn.

1. What Happens After Childbirth

After childbirth, a mother’s duties have only just begun. Your nurse will first make sure that your uterus is beginning to heal and there is no complication to worry about. The uterus needs to go back to being firm again, otherwise, there is a risk of the bleeding getting worse and leading to other complications.

The next most important stage is breastfeeding. This is essential for the baby as the mother’s feed is packed with nutrients that the newborn can absorb to get stronger. Remember, your baby has also been moved from its safe haven to a foreign environment, so keeping your baby close to your skin is comforting for the baby and helps with familiarizing the relationship between the both of you. While some mothers would prefer to feed their baby formula milk and opt out of breastfeeding, it is a given fact that breast milk is the safest and the most nutritious.

Experiencing mild contractions up to a day or two after childbirth is very normal as the body is still adjusting and trying to get back to its normal state. However, the pain will be quite bearable and your focus should be on getting closer to your baby. Make sure that the doctor checks you thoroughly and ensures that there are no internal injuries to be worried about.

The birth-giving process may seem long and extended but is also an amazing process. A woman’s body goes through so many changes in just a couple of hours to bring new life into this world. The struggles that a woman endures, in the beginning, is soon forgotten because when the mother looks at her child for the first time, she knows it was worth it.

Also Read: Tips on How to Prepare for Labour and Childbirth

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