Normal Labor and Delivery Process
After months of anticipation, your baby’s due date is near. Here’s what you can expect from the start of labor until the first days and weeks with your new baby.
Signs of Labor
No one can predict with certainty when labor will begin — the due date your doctor gives you is merely a point of reference. It is normal for labor to start as early as three weeks before that date or as late as two weeks after it. The following are signs that labor is probably not far away:
This occurs when your baby’s head drops down into your pelvis in preparation for delivery. Your 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. This can occur a few weeks to a few hours from the onset of labor.
A blood-tinged or brownish discharge from your cervix is the released mucus plug that has sealed off the womb from infection. This can occur days before or at the onset of labor.
Frequent loose stools may mean labor is imminent.
Fluid gushing or leaking from the vagina means the membranes of the amniotic sac that surrounded and protected your baby have ruptured. This can occur hours before labor starts or during labor. Most women go into labor within 24 hours. If labor does not occur naturally during this time frame, doctors may induce labor to prevent infections and delivery complications.
Although it’s not unusual to experience periodic, irregular contractions (uterine muscle spasms) as your labor nears, contractions that occur at intervals of less than 10 minutes are usually an indication that labor has begun.
Stages of Labor
Labor is typically divided into three stages:
Stage 1 – The first stage of labor is divided into three phases: latent, active, and transition.
The first, the latent phase, is the longest and least intense. During this phase, contractions become more frequent, helping your cervix to dilate so your baby can pass through the birth canal. Discomfort at this stage is still minimal. During this phase, your cervix will begin to dilate and efface, or thin out. If your contractions are regular, you will probably be admitted to the hospital during this stage and have frequent pelvic exams to determine how much the cervix is dilated.
During the active phase, the cervix begins to dilate more rapidly. You may feel intense pain or pressure in your back or abdomen during each contraction. You may also feel the urge to push or bear down, but your doctor will ask you to wait until your cervix is completely open. During transition, the cervix fully dilates to 10 centimeters. Contractions are very strong, painful, and frequent, coming every three to four minutes and lasting from 60 to 90 seconds.
Stage 2 – Stage 2 begins when the cervix is completely opened.
At this point, your doctor will give you the OK to push. Your pushing, along with the force of your contractions, will propel your baby through the birth canal. The fontanels (soft spots) on your baby’s head allow it to fit through the narrow canal.
Your baby’s head crowns when the widest part of it reaches the vaginal opening. As soon as your baby’s head comes out, your doctor will suction amniotic fluid, blood, and mucus from his or her nose and mouth. You will continue to push to help deliver the baby’s shoulders and body.
Once your baby is delivered, your Provider — or your partner, if he has requested to do so may cut the umbilical cord.
Stage 3 – After your baby is delivered, you enter the final stage of labor.
In this stage, you deliver the placenta, the organ that nourished your baby inside the womb.
Each woman and each labor is different. The amount of time spent in each stage of delivery will vary. If this is your first pregnancy, labor and delivery usually lasts about 12 to 14 hours. The process is usually shorter for subsequent pregnancies.
Just as the amount of time in labor varies, the amount of pain women experience is different, too.
The position and size of your baby and strength of your contractions can influence pain, as well. Although some women can manage their pain with breathing and relaxation techniques learned in childbirth classes, others will need other methods to control their pain.
For women choosing more traditional birth options, several drugs are used to help ease the pain of labor and delivery. Although these drugs are generally safe for the mother and baby, as with any drugs, they have the potential for side effects.
Anesthetics block all feeling, including pain. They also block muscle movement. General anesthetics cause you to lose consciousness. If you have a cesarean delivery, you may be given general, spinal, or epidural anesthesia. The appropriate form of anesthesia will depend on your health, your baby’s health, and the medical conditions surrounding your delivery.
An anesthesiologist will meet you when you enter the hospital for delivery and discuss pain management options that meet your delivery goals.
Non Drug Options
Many woman choose to utilize methods such as relaxation techniques or hypnosis for non-drug options. Many local businesses provide classes for these types of techniques so they are better prepared for delivery.
Cesarean Sections (C-Sections)
At WellStar North Fulton Hospital, our philosophy is to encourage mothers to have successful vaginal deliveries. C-section is considered a major surgery, and with that comes risks. We encourage mothers to labor as long as mom and baby are healthy. This is why we boast an 11.7% c-section rate – the lowest in Atlanta and well below the national average. Should a c-section be necessary, we have a team of skilled surgeons and staff ready and dedicated to a healthy outcome for mom and baby. Click here to learn more about c-sections.