When the finally arrives for your baby to enter the world there will be several stages of labour to work through. Knowing what to expect at each stage and some advice for getting through can help you as you prepare for this momentous event.

Early Labour

Early labour may either begin with your water breaking and/or the start of mild contractions.

How do you know if your water has broken? In some cases, there will be no question because there will be a gush of fluid. In others, there may be only a trickle, making more difficult to determine whether it’s actually amniotic fluid.

Check the smell – if it’s somewhat sweet-smelling and not like ammonia, it’s likely to be amniotic fluid. It should also continue to leak, although that isn’t necessarily always the case. Regardless, contact your practitioner if you think your water has broken because there’s the potential for infection to occur if you go too long before giving birth.

How do I know if these contractions are the real thing or just more Braxton Hicks? The accepted wisdom is that generally contractions intensify, rather than slow down with activity. They should also become progressively more frequent, painful and regular.

There may also be pinkish or blood-streaked discharge, known as the ‘show.’

Now the question becomes, when do you head up to the hospital, if that’s where you plan to give birth?

The general rule is to wait until your contractions are five minutes apart and lasting about 30 to 40 seconds, especially if this is your first baby. You’ll want to go slightly sooner than that – when they’re about seven minutes apart — if this is your second or third child.

Because there may be other factors to consider, talking to your practitioner will help you decide about the best time to leave home.

Active Labour

During active labour the real work begins as contractions intensify, becoming stronger and more painful. Your cervix will dilate to seven centimeters during this time. It’s during this period of active labour that you’ll likely want to make use of pain relief options, whether that’s narcotics, anesthetics, natural techniques, or a combination of the three. Experiment with different positions to find what works for you in terms of coping with the pain.

This period is usually shorter than the first, and may be an average of two to three hours.

Support from a partner, coach, and/or health-care practitioner is especially critical during this time as they can help you cope physically, mentally and emotionally. Massages, words of encouragement, and other helpful aids can all make a huge difference.

Transition stage and Giving Birth

During the transition stage your cervix will dilate the final three centimeters to a full ten centimeters. This usually happens within about 15 minutes to an hour.

It will be followed an urge to push and ultimately your baby will move through the open cervix and vagina and be born.

You may want to try different positions to find the most comfortable and effective for giving birth. These may include using a birthing stool, lying on your side, squatting or moving onto your hands and knees.

In order to facilitate the opening of the birthing canal you may also want to use a number of different techniques, such as visualizing the birth canal opening to allow the baby to move through or having warm cloths applied to the perineum.

Do what comes naturally and push when you feel the urge, unless you’re otherwise instructed.

You may also feel a range of other symptoms, such as warm and sweaty or chilled and shaky.

Take heart, the end will be very near at this point. There will likely be a final strong push to completely expel your baby, followed by an immense feeling of relief. Your baby has been born.

Delivery of Placenta

While the hardest work is definitely over you will have one last phase to go through; delivering the placenta. This may happen within a few minutes to a half hour or so. It certainly isn’t as painful as giving birth but you may be required to give one more push.

All of the placenta must be expelled to prevent infection or continued bleeding.

While your health care practitioner completes final care, you can take this time to begin getting to know your new son or daughter. You may begin breastfeeding or just cuddle him or her close. Savour the moment!

Image courtesy of khunaspix / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
by Michelle Strutzenberger