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July 27, 2016

 Giving birth usually happens between 37 and 42 weeks. And while every woman will experience labour differently, all will generally go through three stages of labour. Knowing a little bit about what to expect (and what’s coming next!) will help you be prepared for the day.


First stage of labour:
Latent phase, active phase and transition. 



While for some women early labour signs include indigestion or a rupture of the amniotic membranes (‘water breaking’), others may experience a backache or bloody mucus discharge (‘bloody show’). Pinpointing the start of labour? When the cervix starts to dilate and regular, mild contractions begin. Labour finishes when your cervix is fully dilated at 10cm.

Latent (early labour) phase

As your cervix thins out and dilates to 3cm during the latent phase, your belly will feel as though it is tightening. Contractions are usually 10-20 minutes apart and last for 15-20 seconds. Pressure will start in your back and will move forward through to your lower tummy, similar to extreme menstrual cramps. It could be either extremely painful or mildly uncomfortable – every woman has her own unique experience. Contractions gradually move closer together until they occur every five to seven minutes and last 30-40 seconds.

Track your contractions from the very start and keep your LMC in the loop. They’ll advise you when it’s best to head to hospital. The latent phase may last eight to nine hours for a first-time mum and about five hours for those who have given birth before, although these times vary widely. Ultimately, it shouldn’t last more than 20 hours. Try to relax and breathe deeply through each contraction. Now’s the time to do what you’re prepared for: listen to some music or a podcast, shower, go for a walk, nap – whatever you feel up to.

Active phase

The active phase of giving birth begins as your body gets into gear for delivery. Your cervix will dilate from 4cm to 8cm. It will take about an hour to dilate each centimetre, faster in women who have had a baby before. Contractions will now be moderate to strong, coming every two to three minutes and lasting about one minute. By now it will be a lot more difficult to walk and talk during a contraction - you’ll be in full birth-plan mode. If you’ve opted for a hospital birth, try lying in bed, taking a bath or sitting on a birthing ball.


Transition phase

In the transition phase of labour your cervix dilates from 8cm-10cm – labour is at full throttle! Your contractions will be strong, coming every two minutes and lasting 60-90 seconds. This is the time when you might feel anxious, nausea, desperate, or even angry, due to the extra adrenaline coursing through your body. It’s totally normal to feel like giving up, but this is the time to stay focused. Although you may feel the sensation to push as your baby’s head moves towards the vaginal opening, it’s important that you restrain yourself until your LMC gives you the AOK once the cervix is fully dilated. At this point, it’s not necessarily too late to have pain medication but it will depend on your individual circumstances.

Second Phase of labour:


At the start of the second stage of labour you’ll be fully dilated and it will be time to push - only once your LMC has given the all clear. It’s a huge relief to be able to push the pain away with each contraction. This stage usually lasts less than two hours with a first baby, and less than an hour with those that follow.

You will feel your baby’s head moving down the birth canal with each push. As your baby crowns at the vaginal entrance, you may feel a burning sensation as the tissue is stretched to its utmost. Your LMC may advise you to ‘pant’ or breathe fast and shallow, which helps prevent you pushing for a few seconds. This will allow your skin to stretch a little further, and hopefully prevent tearing or an episiotomy (a cut made to the vaginal entrance and perineum that must be stitched after delivery). Then… rejoice! Baby has arrived!


Third Stage of Labour: Delivering the placenta



There will be lots of excitement after your baby is born, so don’t be surprised if you’re distracted as you prepare to deliver the placenta. This process often takes five to twenty minutes, although it can last up to an hour. During the final stage of labour, contractions begin again as the placenta comes away from the wall of your uterus.

In most situations you’ll be asked to push as you deliver the placenta. Sometimes women require an injection to help the process, which causes your uterus to crunch down on the placenta until it peels away from the uterine wall. Baby’s cord will be clamped and cut as soon as he or she is delivered. Active management has been found to reduce the chance of postpartum haemorrhage, but there is an increased chance of nausea, vomiting and hypertension, depending on the type of drug used. There will be rising emotions including relief, exhaustion and elation and after exerting an extraordinary amount of energy you may experience chills, hunger and thirst.

After the third stage of labour, all that’s left is to allow your LMC to stitch up any vaginal or perineal tears, to move to a postpartum room if you’re in hospital, and to cuddle your newborn!

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