The 9 months of pregnancy are divided into three trimesters. So also, the process of childbirth from the first contraction you feel to that final push is broken down into three defined stages – labor, delivery (pushing) and delivery of the placenta. Knowing what to expect at each stage will keep you better prepared to enable you to enjoy the birthing experience despite all the fear and dread you will feel. So, these are the 3 stages of childbirth to know and to be ready to face.
The First Stage
It starts with the first uterine contraction you feel. It is also the longest of all the phases. Throughout the pregnancy, the cervix is sealed with the mucous plug. It is firm and strong supporting the expanding uterus. As you near the end of pregnancy, the cervix begins to dilate and efface. For many pregnant women, the process starts just a few hours before labor. A lot of things happen during this first stage of labor. The mucous plug is lost opening up the cervix. The cervix moves from the posterior position to the anterior position. The contractions work to further ripen your uterus. This stage is divided into the latent phase and the active phase of labor characterized by the state of the cervix and the intensity of labor.
In the latent phase, the contractions are mild. It feels like a mild backache. They occur every 15 -20 minutes and last for 30 seconds or a minute. It ends when the cervix is dilated at 3 to 4cm. You might have the bloody show during this phase. It is light brown or pink-tinged mucus. Your waters might also break. It feels like a mild trickle or a gush of water. The best pregnancy tip for this stage is to sit back and relax. Make yourself as comfortable as possible by listening to music or soaking in warm water. You can ring up your midwife or doula and inform her about your contractions. If you are birthing at the hospital, you can head to the center when the contractions come in every 10 minutes. This is the transition phase.
In the active phase of labor, the contractions get stronger and more intense. They occur every two-three minutes and also last longer. Your cervix is dilating at a very rapid rate. It ends with your cervix dilating to 10 cm. The pain might make you want to throw up. Your vitals will be recorded. The doctor in charge will monitor the baby’s heart rate as well as your contraction. He will also check to see how the cervix is dilating. You can ask for an epidural if the pain gets unbearable. Best Pregnancy Tips for this stage include moving on a birthing ball, walking, changing positions or taking a warm shower. You can also ask your partner to apply pressure on your lower back.
The Second Stage
It is time to push you, baby, down the birthing canal. You will feel the pressure and your rectum as the baby gradually moves down the birthing canal. With every contraction, you will also feel the urge to push. Work with the natural urges of your body. Take a deep breath between every push.
As the soon as the baby’s head starts crowing (the baby’s head becomes visible at the opening of the vagina), the doctor or the midwife will ask you to relax a bit to avoid a tear. You will feel a hot stinging sensation as the baby passes through the opening of the vagina. She will advise you to push gently until your baby slips out with ease. She will support the perineum with a warm compress as your baby passes through.
The Third Stage
While you bond with your baby, your doctor will wait for the placenta to be delivered. It is delivered as the uterus contracts after birth. You will feel contractions, but they are very weak. Again, you might feel the urge to push. The doctor might inject a drug to help you deliver the placenta. However, there are natural ways to do so too, and breastfeeding is one of them. If you suffered a tear during childbirth, your doctor will numb the area and stitch it up.
The process of labor and delivery progresses at a different pace for every woman. The number of hours is generally more for first time mothers; it could last anywhere between 14 -24 hours. Don’t get scared. Just keep your mind on the prize, and you’ll do fine.