Accouchement by definition is the period of time when a woman is confined for giving birth. It has also been defined as the time or act of giving birth.

This term isn't used too often anymore to describe childbirth. Most health practitioners and the general public describe the act of giving birth as labor and delivery or childbirth. Accouchement is a term sometimes used in legal documents describing the need to prove parentage. It may become necessary to prove the time and date of accouchement if trying to determine who is entitled to the inheritance of an individual who only had distant relatives when he or she died.

Length of the Average Accouchement

The length of labor is hard to define and can vary widely from woman to woman. Women who choose an epidural for pain management instead of having a natural delivery report that it sometimes slows down their labor. Many medical experts say that the accouchement time for a first-time birth is between 16 to 25 hours. Labor for subsequent pregnancies tends to be shorter.

Stages of Labor During Accouchement

The stages of labor haven't changed at all over the history of childbirth. What has changed is how these stages are defined and understood. Modern medicine has broken down the stages of labor into three parts: the first stage, the second stage and the third or final stage.

The first stage includes early labor and active labor. It tends to be the longest. During this stage your contractions will begin to start coming at relatively regular intervals causing your cervix to progressively efface and dilate. Contractions can be 10 minutes or more apart and last 30 seconds at first. Towards the end of early labor they'll be closer to five minutes apart and last 40 to 60 seconds.

Early contractions can be painful but won't require the same attention as later ones. In the history of childbirth women would continue on with their tasks until the contractions became stronger, although they wouldn't have known to time their frequency and length as we do today. Most physicians and midwives today will tell you to keep busy during daytime early labor but don't do anything too strenuous. If it's nighttime or you're tired, you'll be encouraged to try to nap between contractions.

In active labor your contractions will get longer, stronger and more frequent. At the beginning of active labor you'll need to make your way to the hospital or call your midwife if you're having a home birth.

The second stage is sometimes referred to as the pushing stage and happens when your cervix is completely dilated and your baby had dropped low into your pelvis. The final stage begins right after your baby is born and involves the separation and delivery of the placenta.

Birthing Positions

Women have traditionally given birth in the upright position. While birth customs varied from culture to culture woman usually gave birth either by squatting, standing, kneeling or sitting right up until the 1800s. Often a tree, rope or attendant provided support.

By the end of the 18th century birthing techniques changed some especially in the upper classes where doctor attended births were becoming more common. Modesty started becoming an issue and the Sims birthing position was started where the woman was on her side, facing away from the doctor, with her knees curled up.

During the Victorian era bed births became more common. Woman often had their babies lying down with their knees up and covered with a sheet. Doctors worked by touch alone and maintained eye contact to preserve modesty by not viewing the genitals. This technique and birthing position is still used in many hospitals today.

Positions encouraged today for a more natural childbirth experience include hands-and-knees, sitting, squatting, standing up or laying on your side.


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