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It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for; going into labour means your little bundle of joy is about to make their great entrance into the world. While exciting, the prospect of it all can be daunting to many mums-to-be. Thankfully there are many ways to cope with the pains and discomfort of a natural labour and birth experience.

The First Stage – Dilation

The first stage of labour is dilation, when the neck of the womb (cervix) opens to 10cm. This is about the size of the diameter of a bagel.

Before labour starts, your cervix is long and firm. During the first hours of labour, it will begin to contract allowing the cervix to dilate. For first-time mums, this stage can last anywhere from six to 36 hours.

During this time, you’ll experience contractions. Some are quite mild, similar to period cramps, while others can be sharp and strong. When they first begin, they will last between 30-40 seconds and will be irregular. As your labour progresses the contractions will become longer and stronger with shorter breaks in between each contraction.

You may also experience a ‘show’; which is the discharge of a plug of mucus (but not all women do). It may be thick or pink. You may experience this a day before you go into labour, or even a week before. This indicates that the cervix is starting to open.

You may also experience your waters breaking. This means the amniotic sac around your baby is ruptured and your baby will be arriving very soon.

Things to Keep in Mind:

There is no right or wrong order that these things happen. Some women will experience their waters breaking first while others may feel contractions. It all depends on your body and your baby.

Your labour may be slower than expected. In this case, the midwife or doctor may speed up the labour by breaking your waters or giving you a drip with the birth hormone oxytocin to encourage contractions.

Induction is a possibility too. In some instances, your doctor may decide to induce labour. This means you will be admitted to hospital, given medication to help start labour and be monitored throughout your labour. This may happen if you have complications during your pregnancy or if your baby is overdue.

Many women have a caesarean section; which means bub is delivered through a surgical incision in the abdomen, rather than coming through the vaginal canal. Again, there are plenty of reasons for a c-section including pregnancy or labour complications. You may need an emergency c-section or a scheduled one, depending on your circumstance.

The Second Stage – Push!

When the cervix is fully dilated (10cm), the baby’s head will begin to move down. Then it’s time to start pushing to help baby pass through the birth canal. Normally baby’s head will come out first (called crowning), followed by the shoulders, body and legs.

The birth of your baby usually takes thirty minutes to an hour, but it may take longer or shorter depending on whether you’ve had pain relief such as an epidural, whether it’s your first baby or not and even what birthing position you’re in. Stay focused on the prize – a little baby to cuddle!

Once the baby has been delivered, the umbilical cord will be clamped and cut.

The Third Stage – The Placenta

The third and final stage of labour is the delivery of the placenta. Breastfeeding is usually encouraged at this stage, as it’s beneficial to the baby and helps with the final stage of labour.

You can either deliver the placenta through gentle pushing, or the doctor or midwife can administer more oxytocin to help the uterus contract down to speed up delivery of the placenta.

It’s normal to lose some blood during the delivery process, and most women do. However, when there are large volumes of blood lost, the doctor or midwife may need to manage this.

Tips

If you think you could be in labour, relax and stay calm. The best place to be for early labour is in the comfort of your own home. Aromatherapy, going for short walks, neck and shoulder massages and a warm wheat bag may help you feel more comfortable. When contractions become fairly regular, write down the time between each contraction; and when they are coming every five minutes, head to the hospital.

If you have any questions, ask. Labour is a big life event, and it’s normal to feel nervous or have questions. If you are worried about anything at all, feel free to call your hospital or midwife.

Pain relief. There are various pain relief options for childbirth, both medical and non-medical. Breathing techniques, close support from your partner (or a friend or family member), hot and cold packs, nitrous oxide and epidural anaesthesia may help.

Every labour is different. Every body is different, so while labour may last a long time for other mums, it may not for you. Not knowing how your labour will be can be hard, especially if you like to be in control, but this is all part of the fun. Before you know it, labour will be over and you’ll be relishing in those newborn snuggles.

Tummy Talks brings you FREE online antenatal classes and pregnancy information. For childbirth education, breast feeding information, post-natal
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