Stages Of Labor And Inducing Labor
Many mothers-to-be approach the prospect of labor and delivery with mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety. It's very normal to be happy about meeting your little one for the first time, but to be nervous about the process of childbirth itself - especially if this is your first pregnancy--is also normal. Sometimes it can help to be as informed as possible about labor and delivery. Knowing what to expect can give you a greater sense of control and enable you to make sensible decisions about what you want to happen in the delivery room. Here we're going to look at the three stages of labor, as well as the need to induce labor in some cases if a pregnancy continues for too long.
The Stages Of Labor
Labor is very different from woman to woman and the duration of the childbirth experience varies greatly. In other words, some births take a lot longer than others. First-time Moms sometimes take between 10 and 20 hours to give birth, although it is possible for labor to go on for an even longer, or a shorter, time. Women who've previously given birth vaginally may find that subsequent labors are shorter.
If you're having a pre-scheduled C-section, you'll know in advance when your appointment is and you have the luxury of knowing roughly how long it's going to take. Even if you are planning on having a C-section, it still helps to know what to expect during a normal birth, because, as they say, even the best laid plans can sometimes experience an upset! The process of "natural" labor and delivery is divided into three stages.
The First Stage
The first stage of labor has two "sub-stages," early labor and active labor. During early labor, contractions begin as the cervix gradually thins out, becomes softer and opens up (dilates). You waters will probably break during this time, and the mucus plug that closes off the entrance to the cervix during pregnancy may either fall out or gradually disintegrate. Early labor ends when the cervix is dilated to around 4 cm.
At the onset of the second part of the first stage of labor - "active" labor - your contractions become more regular, stronger and they last for longer too. The increase in strength, frequency and duration is caused by the cervix dilating more rapidly than before. These contractions continue until you move into the second stage.
The Second Stage
The second stage, also called the "pushing" stage, is where the hard work really begins for the Mom-to-be. This stage begins when your cervix becomes fully dilated, allowing your baby to come out. It ends when the baby has fully emerged.
The Third Stage
The third stage ends when the placenta has fully separated and has been delivered.
Signs Of Labor
If this is your first pregnancy, you may not be sure how to know when you are really in labor. Some women get confused between Braxton-Hicks contractions and the real contractions of early labor. Braxton-Hicks can feel very real and indeed, in some cases, painful, but unfortunately these are just "warm-up" contractions. They are your body's way of practicing for the real thing.
If these contractions begin to last for longer, come more regularly and become more painful, then that could be a sign that you have entered labor. The breaking of the waters and the passing of the mucus plug are additional signs of labor that you should look out for. Your medical care giver should have already given you instructions on what to do when labor begins (namely, how long you should wait before going to the hospital). If you are unsure whether you are in labor or not, don't be shy about contacting your healthcare provider - better safe than sorry.
There are a number of reasons for inducing labor. Sometimes women can go as much as two weeks beyond their due date (this happens more often during first-time pregnancies) - in which case it may be necessary to use hormone drugs or other, mildly invasive techniques to kick-start the birth process. Women can become very uncomfortable when pregnancy goes on for too long and it may also be in the best interests of the baby's health to hurry things along.
Learning More About Labor And Delivery
To learn more about childbirth, you can check out some of the many online sites that have labor and delivery videos as well as pictures of labor and delivery to help you visualize the process. If you have already decided where and how you would prefer to give birth, your labor and delivery nurse or health care provider are, of course, a great source of information that takes into account your personal circumstances.