Recognizing the signs of labor can help you know when it's time to call your health provider and head to the hospital. Learning about the stages of labor can help you know what to expect during labor and delivery.
Labor occurs in three stages. When regular contractions begin, the baby moves down into the pelvis as the cervix both effaces (thins) and dilates (opens). How long labor lasts and how it progresses is different for every woman. But each stage features some milestones that are true for every woman.
Stage 1: Early labor and active labor
The first stage of labor takes place in two phases: early labor and active labor.
During early labor:
During active labor:
What you can do:
Stage 2: Baby is born
During the second stage of labor, your cervix is fully dilated and ready for childbirth. Your health provider will want you to begin pushing to allow your baby to be born.
During stage 2 of labor:
What you can do:
Stage 3: Delivery of placenta
During the third stage of labor, the placenta, which gave your baby food and oxygen through the umbilical cord, is delivered. While you are bonding with your new baby during the first minutes of her life, your provider will get you ready for this final stage.
During stage 3 of labor:
What you can do:
Once you're done, give yourself a big pat on the back for all your hard work. You've made it through childbirth! Now, enjoy these first special moments with your new baby as you and your partner welcome him to the world.
Coping with labor pain
Some women prefer to deal with the pain of childbirth naturally, using breathing and relaxation techniques learned in childbirth education classes. Other women decide to use pain medication to help manage labor pain.
You may want to have a natural childbirth. But during labor, you may decide to use some pain medication, such as epidural or a spinal, to cope with the pain. It's okay to change your mind. Don't feel like you gave up or let your baby down. Only you know how strong the pain feels. It's okay to talk with your provider and do what you think is best.
An epidural is the most popular and effective kind of pain relief for labor. You get a needle with a small tube attached placed in your lower back. Medicine goes through the tube while you're in labor. It numbs your lower body so you can't feel the pain from your contractions. The medicine doesn't make you go to sleep, so you can be wide awake when your baby is born!
During labor, your cervix dilates (opens) to let your baby out. Your cervix is the opening to the uterus that sits at the top of the vagina. In order to have fetal-scalp blood sampling, your cervix must be dilated enough that your provider can reach your baby’s head.
The test may remind you of a pelvic exam. It takes about 5 minutes. You lie on your back with your feet in stirrups. Your provider places a plastic cone in the vagina that fits up against the baby’s head. Your provider pricks your baby’s scalp and takes a small amount of blood. The blood is tested, and results are ready in a few minutes.
You may feel some pressure during the test, but it shouldn’t hurt. Your baby may have some bruising or bleeding at the spot where he’s pricked.
If you have an infection, like HIV or hepatitis C, your provider may not recommend fetal blood sampling. This is because you can pass these infections to your baby through the spot where he’s pricked.
Your body also makes oxytocin during breastfeeding. Oxytocin helps your uterus shrink back to its original size after giving birth.
If labor is slow to start or your contractions stall, your health care provider may give you a medicine called Pitocin. Pitocin acts like oxytocin and can help start contractions or make them stronger.
Pitocin is a medicine that acts like oxytocin, a hormone your body makes to help start labor contractions. Contractions are when the muscles of your uterus get tight and then relax. They help push your baby out of your uterus (womb). Health care providers often use Pitocin to:
You may start having labor contractions shortly after you get Pitocin. It can make your contractions very strong and lower your baby's heart rate. Your provider carefully monitors your baby's heart rate for changes and adjusts the amount of Pitocin you get, if needed.