You have been waiting nine months to meet your baby. Your due date is approaching, and you may be both excited and anxious about the big day. As you prepare for the start of labor and delivery, it is good to know what to expect. This can help you focus on enjoying this time with your infant.
Broadly, the process of labor and delivery falls into three stages. The first stage is dilation and effacement (Cervical changes); the second stage is vaginal birth, And the third stage is delivery of the placenta (Afterbirth). While this is a general outline of the three stages of normal labor, it is important to note that every woman’s experience will vary slightly.
Signs of Labor
As the ‘due’ date approaches, some women may notice an increase in the amount of mucus discharge from the cervix (mucous plug) or a small leak or gush of amniotic fluid from time to time. A woman may also experience a copious discharge as labor begins, but not necessarily.
The baby’s head descends into the pelvis in preparation for delivery. The belly may look lower, and you may find it easier to breathe as your baby no longer crowds your lungs. You may also feel an increased need to urinate because your baby is pressing on your bladder.
Your discharge may be tinged with blood due to the cervix opening. This is the mucus plug that sealed the womb from any infection. It is very normal and can occur days before labor.
You are most likely to have loose bowel movements (D) or diarrhea during the early hours of labor, and this can happen quite frequently. The same hormones that cause your uterus to contract rhythmically and powerfully also squeeze your large bowel so that it must empty. It is one of the first signs of labor.
Most women will deliver their babies within 24 hours after their water breaks. However, if your labor does not start on its own, your doctor may induce labor with medication to prevent the risk of infection and complications with delivery.
Although it is not unusual to experience periodic, irregular contractions as your labor near, contractions that occur at intervals of less than 10 minutes are usually an indication that labor has begun. If you are in labor, you will also feel cramping in your lower back.
Stages of Labor
Labor involves three stages progressive contractions and relaxation of the uterine musculature.
Stage 1 of Labor
Stage 1 of labor is divided into 3 phases: latent, active, and transition. During stage 1 of labor, contractions become more frequent and regular as your cervix dilates and thins. This is the longest of the three stages and can last anywhere from 12 to 19 hours. The latent stage of labor is when you can expect to spend the most time with your health care provider.
Stage 1 of labor begins with mild contractions and ends when the cervix is fully dilated to 10 cm. During this stage, your cervix will open to 10 centimeters (3.9 inches). This is called full dilation. Your doctor will also stretch your opening to aid the baby’s passage (called an episiotomy). Your doctor will tell you when you can start pushing and bearing down.
During the transition, you have made it to the final stretch of your labor and delivery process. The cervix is fully dilated to 10 centimeters. This stage can be difficult because contractions are strong and painful. They usually come every three to four minutes lasting from 60 to 90 seconds each.
Stage 2 of Labor
Stage 2 is when your cervix is fully dilated, and the baby is ready to move from the uterus into the birth canal. Your doctor will tell you when to begin pushing, and between contractions, you may feel pressure or an urgent need to push that should go away until it is time for the next contraction. When your baby passes through the vaginal canal, the fontanels on his/her head allow for a tight fit that is not painful for your newborn.
You may experience the urge to push with each contraction. Be sure to let your doctor know immediately when you feel an increased pressure in your rectum or a tingling or burning sensation. This is the baby’s head crowning. Once the head is delivered, only one more push is needed to deliver the rest of the body. After delivery, your doctor – or your partner, if they had requested to do so -clamps and cuts the umbilical cord.
Stage 3 of Labor
In the final stage of labor, you deliver your placenta, the organ that nourished your baby in the womb. Your doctor should guide you through the delivery and aftercare. Experts estimate that first-time moms usually spend about 12 to 14 hours in labor. The process is usually shorter for subsequent pregnancies. Each woman and each labor are different, so your timeline may be different from this estimate. Each woman and each labor are different. The amount of time spent in each stage of delivery will vary. If this is your first pregnancy, labor, and delivery usually last about 12 to 14 hours. The process is usually shorter for subsequent pregnancies.
Several Pain Treatments
The amount of pain you experience during labor is different for every woman and can vary with each pregnancy. While some women can manage their pain with breathing techniques learned in their childbirth classes, others will need other methods to control their pain.
Pain relief for labor and delivery can take a variety of forms — from medication to alternative therapies. Some women choose to have no pain relief at all. The type of pain relief that is best for you depends on your goals, preferences, and health needs.
Your caregiver may recommend pain medication during labor. These medications fall into two categories: analgesics and anesthetics.
Analgesics provide comfort without the total loss of feeling or muscle movement. Anesthetics numb a larger area of your body or keep you from feeling pain in a particular area.
There are three types of anesthesia to choose from: general, spinal, and epidural. The appropriate form of anesthesia will depend on your health, your baby’s health, and the medical conditions surrounding your delivery. Most women will have an epidural or spinal anesthetic for a cesarean section.
Non-Drug Methods- About one in every three mothers chooses non-drug methods for relieving pain during labor. Talk with your doctor about non-drug methods to relieve pain during labor, such as acupuncture, hypnosis, relaxation techniques, and changing position frequently during labor.
What Do You Expect After your Delivery?
You are in the home stretch. Just as your body went through many changes before birth, it will go through transitions as you recover from childbirth. Here is what to expect after delivery:
Vaginal discharge (lochia)
After birth, you will experience a bloody discharge heavier than a regular period. This is called lochia, and it may seem like it takes forever to taper off. But do not worry, this is completely normal!
Pain in episiotomy or laceration
After delivery, you may have pain in your perineum. This is where the doctor made an episiotomy cut to widen your vagina for pushing out the baby or you may have been torn during birth. You will feel comfortable walking but might notice pain if you cough, sneeze, or lift heavy objects.
Hot and cold flashes
After delivery, you might be hot and then cold. The changes in your body’s hormones and flow of blood may cause you to sweat one minute and feel the chill the next.
Hemorrhoids (swollen varicose veins in the anal area) are common after pregnancy and delivery. Your doctor or midwife can prescribe creams to help relieve swelling, itching, and pain. These will help reduce your discomfort so you can continue to have normal bowel movements. Postpartum urinary incontinence is common but temporary. You will find things improve several weeks after delivery. Your body gradually returns to normal in the six weeks to three months after birth.
After giving birth, you may continue to feel uterine contractions for a few days. You may notice contractions most while your baby is nursing, but the good news is that these are helping your uterus heal. The after pains will ease off within a few days and you will soon be back on track.
Even if you are not breastfeeding, your breasts may be swollen and sore for a few days after delivery. At first, you will only make about 1 oz. to 2 oz. of milk at each feeding. As your body adapts over the next few days, your milk supply will increase to match how often more closely you breastfeed.
Urinary or fecal incontinence
Once you have your baby, you may notice that you leak urine when you laugh or sneeze or find it difficult to control bowel movements. This is normal but should resolve within a few weeks or months after delivery.
Constipation can be a problem after delivery. Therefore, it is important to drink plenty of fluids and eat high-fiber foods while you are pregnant so that your digestive system will keep working smoothly after birth and help you have regular bowel movements.
After you have had your baby, take care of yourself. Once you feel up to it, start walking regularly. Avoid lifting heavy objects for a few weeks. Along with physical changes such as swelling and fatigue, you may be experiencing some emotional swings, which is normal. If moodiness persists, talk to your doctor — you could be suffering from postpartum depression.
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