Understanding the different stages of labour

Labour is different for every woman, and therefore the different stages of labour can last longer in some mums than they can in others, but here is a little bit of information about each stage to help you understand better.

Contractions are the tightening of the uterus muscles. In many medical books, these are described and painful – for first time mums, this can create a fearful image. I would prefer that you think of them as intense rather than painful – think of them as extreme period pains.

The early phase of labour, also known as the latent phase, can last for over a day or so, in a first labour. During this early stage, your contractions gradually become more uncomfortable, but still relatively mild, and occur more frequently, though they may be irregular. During this phase, your cervix gradually shortens, (effaces) and begins to dilate. When the cervix has dilated to 3-4cm and you’re having regular contractions, the active – or established labour has begun.

Established labour – as just noted is when you are beyond 3-4cms dilated and you are having regular contractions. However, pin-pointing this exact change from early to established labour is not easy – even for a midwife, without being examined. Regular contractions will now be happening at least every 5 minutes and lasting between 45-60 seconds. Again, while each woman is different, active labour can last for around 10-12 hours, although this might be considerably shorter, even for first time mums.

In established labour you will notice that the intensity will be less concentrated in the lower abdomen, instead starting higher in the abdomen and moving down towards the pelvis and lower back, as your baby is now being pushed down.

When to go to hospital?
Check with your hospital as to when they will admit you, but a general rule of thumb for low-risk pregnancies would be when contractions are regularly occurring every 5 minutes. High-risks mothers may want to go before this, so that they and baby can be monitored.

Transition usually occurs when your cervix is dilating between 7-10cm; on average this lasts between 10-30 minutes, though for some this can be quicker and others much longer. During this period, contractions can happen between 30-90 seconds apart and last up to 90 seconds in length – this can feel quite challenging. It is now that you will feel more intensity in your lower back and rectum (many describe the sensation like wanting to do a poo). Unless your cervix is fully dilated (10cm), you will not be ready to push.

It is not uncommon for you to be sick during this period, or experience hot flushes. Work with your body to find the most comfortable position for you.

The second stage is when the cervix is 10cm dilated and the baby is ready to be born.

Contractions in the second stage are usually shorter than in transition with a longer space in between them to allow the mother time to rest.

Your body usually knows instinctively when to ‘push’. During this time, try not to hold your breath and try instead to breathe out through your nose, this will focus your breath within and creates a downward movement with your organs. Follow your body; it instinctively knows what to do.

Your baby will negotiate your pelvis and the pelvic floor. The sensation of baby’s head touching the pelvic floor gives a surge of oxytocin, which makes the contractions more expulsive. This is nature’s way of giving you a helping hand.

As the head presses on the vaginal tissues and perineum, you will feel a burning and stinging sensation – this is normal. This sends another surge of the happy hormone oxytocin to the brain. This burning sensation means the head is crowning and the baby is about to be born very soon.

Once the baby’s head is out it will turn to the side, to make it easier for the shoulders to pass through, once they are, the body will slip through. Welcome bubba!

Once the baby is born, the cord is usually cut once it has stopped pulsating (this can take several minutes). The cord still pulsates as it is transferring the blood from the placenta to the baby. After your baby is born there will be further contractions to help deliver the placenta and also help your womb contract. This is the golden hour, where skin-to-skin contact is recommended and encouraging the baby to breast-feed. During this time you will deliver your placenta and your baby will be administered with Vitamin K.

Magical Baby Moments

This article was written by Magical Baby Moments. Magical Baby Moments offers group hypnobirthing classes in Romford, and one-to-one classes across Essex and London.

Follow Magical Baby Moments on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and at http://www.magicalbabymoments.com

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