The three stages of labour: What to Expect
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.
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.
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.
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.
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