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Stages of Labour: What to Expect

Stages of Labour: What to Expect

Labour is a unique and transformative experience that marks the transition from pregnancy to motherhood. Understanding the stages of labour can help you prepare mentally and physically for the journey ahead. Labour is typically divided into three stages: the first stage (early labour, active labour, and transition), the second stage (pushing and delivery), and the third stage (delivery of the placenta). Each stage has its own characteristics, sensations, and requirements for care. Here’s a detailed look at what to expect during each stage of labour.

The First Stage of Labour

The first stage of labour is the longest and involves three phases: early labour, active labour, and transition.

  1. Early Labour
  • Duration: Early labour can last from several hours to several days, especially for first-time mothers.
  • Cervical Changes: During early labour, the cervix begins to dilate (open) and efface (thin out). This stage progresses slowly, with the cervix dilating from 0 to 4 centimetres.
  • Contractions: Contractions during early labour are typically mild to moderate and irregular. They may feel like menstrual cramps, lower back pain, or pressure in the pelvis.
  • Signs and Symptoms: You might experience a bloody show (mucus plug mixed with blood) and your water may break, either as a trickle or a gush.
  • What to Do: Stay relaxed and comfortable. You can stay home during this phase, engaging in light activities, resting, eating light meals, and staying hydrated. Practice breathing and relaxation techniques.
  1. Active Labour
  • Duration: Active labour lasts about 4 to 8 hours but can vary.
  • Cervical Changes: The cervix dilates from 4 to 7 centimetres. This phase progresses more rapidly than early labou
  • Contractions: Contractions become stronger, more regular, and closer together, typically lasting 45 to 60 seconds and occurring every 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Signs and Symptoms: You may feel increasing discomfort and pressure in the lower back and abdomen. Your water may break if it hasn’t already.
  • What to Do: It’s time to head to the hospital or birthing centre. Use breathing techniques, position changes, and comfort measures such as warm baths or massages to cope with the contractions. Your healthcare provider will monitor you and your baby’s progress.
  1. Transition
  • Duration: Transition is the shortest but most intense phase, lasting about 30 minutes to 2 hours.
  • Cervical Changes: The cervix dilates from 7 to 10 centimetres, completing the dilation process.
  • Contractions: Contractions are very strong, close together, and last 60 to 90 seconds, occurring every 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Signs and Symptoms: You may feel intense pressure, back pain, and a strong urge to push. Other symptoms can include shaking, nausea, and irritability.
  • What to Do: Focus on your breathing and relaxation techniques. Lean on your support team for encouragement and comfort.

The Second Stage of Labour

The second stage of labour involves pushing and the delivery of your baby.

  1. Pushing
  • Duration: The pushing stage can last from a few minutes to several hours, depending on whether you’ve given birth before and the position of your baby.
  • Cervical Changes: The cervix is fully dilated at 10 centimetres.
  • Contractions: Contractions may space out slightly but are still strong and regular, helping to move the baby down the birth canal.
  • Signs and Symptoms: You’ll feel an overwhelming urge to push. The baby’s head will gradually crown (become visible) at the vaginal opening.
  • What to Do: Follow your healthcare provider’s guidance on when and how to push. Use gravity to your advantage by trying different positions such as squatting, kneeling, or sitting upright. Rest between contractions and conserve your energy.
  1. Delivery
  • Duration: Delivery time varies, but the final moments of pushing are usually quick.
  • Cervical Changes: The cervix remains fully dilated.
  • Contractions: Contractions continue to help the baby’s body move through the birth canal.
  • Signs and Symptoms: You’ll feel intense pressure and stretching as the baby’s head and shoulders pass through the vaginal opening.
  • What to Do: Push with each contraction and listen to your body’s cues. Once the baby’s head is delivered, your healthcare provider will assist with delivering the shoulders and the rest of the body.

The Third Stage of Labour

The third stage of labour involves the delivery of the placenta.

  1. Delivery of the Placenta
  • Duration: This stage usually lasts 5 to 30 minutes.
  • Cervical Changes: The cervix remains open to allow the placenta to pass through.
  • Contractions: Contractions are milder but help detach the placenta from the uterine wall and expel it.
  • Signs and Symptoms: You may feel mild contractions and a sense of relief as the placenta is delivered. There might be a gush of blood as the placenta detaches.
  • What to Do: Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. They may ask you to push gently to help deliver the placenta. Once delivered, the provider will examine it to ensure it is intact.
  1. Post-Delivery Care
  • Duration: Immediate post-delivery care lasts a few hours.
  • Signs and Symptoms: You’ll experience continued uterine contractions (afterpains) as the uterus contracts back to its pre-pregnancy size. You may also experience fatigue and emotional fluctuations.
  • What to Do: Bond with your baby through skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding if you choose to do so. Your healthcare provider will monitor you for any complications such as excessive bleeding. Rest and let your body recover.

Tips for a Smooth Labour Experience

  • Stay Informed: Attend childbirth classes, read about labour, and talk to your healthcare provider to understand what to expect.
  • Create a Birth Plan: Outline your preferences for labour and delivery, but remain flexible as situations can change.
  • Stay Active: Regular exercise during pregnancy can help prepare your body for labou
  • Stay Hydrated and Nourished: Drink plenty of fluids and eat small, light meals during early labour to keep your energy levels up.
  • Use Comfort Measures: Utilize techniques such as breathing exercises, visualization, massages, warm baths, and position changes to manage pain and discomfort.
  • Rely on Your Support Team: Have a trusted partner, family member, friend, or doula to provide emotional and physical support throughout labour.

Understanding the stages of labour and what to expect can empower you to approach childbirth with confidence. Each stage of labour has its own unique challenges and rewards, but knowing what to anticipate can help you navigate the experience more smoothly. Remember to listen to your body, use the support and resources available to you, and trust in your ability to bring your baby into the world. Labour is a journey, and with the right preparation and mindset, you can make it a positive and empowering experience.