The wait is finally over and the moment has arrived – you’ve gone into labour. So what are the stages of childbirth? Let’s take a look.
Every Mum’s experience of labour is different and no-one can wave a magic wand to predict what your labour will be like, or for that matter how long it will last. However, there is plenty you can do to help prepare yourself.
What are the Stages of Labour?
Labour progresses through three clear stages:
- First stage: when contractions gradually open up the cervix, which is the neck of your womb (uterus). It consists of early labour, active labour, and the transitional phase.
- Second stage: when you push your baby out into the world.
- Third stage: when you deliver the placenta.
Before the first stage occurs, there is actually a pre-labour stage. During your pregnancy the cervix is closed and plugged with mucus in order to keep out infection. The cervix is long, firm and provides a strong base to your womb, and is also in a position that points slightly towards the back, otherwise known as the posterior position.
Before labour can commence, the cervix needs to go through some positional changes. It has to move forward from a posterior to an anterior position, then soften and shorten. This softening is often referred to as ‘ripening.’
First Stage of Labour
During the first stage, the cervix has to open or dilate, so that your baby can be born. With each contraction the muscles of the womb tighten and then release, which in turn gradually draws your cervix up into the lower section of the womb.
In the early phase of first stage labour, the cervix may open very gradually. It may seem as if no changes are happening at all. Early labour can be slow, and contractions may not last long and have lengthy gaps between them. They may even stop for a while before starting again. As Mum enters the active phase of first stage labour, the contractions usually last longer, and become more frequent and powerful. Towards the end of the first stage, labour may become much more intense. This phase of labour is called transition. By the end of the first stage the cervix will be fully dilated, and open to about 10cm (3.9in) in diameter.
If this is Mum’s first baby, the cervix will soften and shorten, and then begin to dilate. If this is baby number two, this tends to happen simultaneously, meaning labour may be shorter.
Second Stage of Labour
This is the stage when the baby is born. During the second stage of labour, baby will descend into the vagina (the birth canal) and Mum will push the baby down and out to meet her for the first time.
Mum will feel the pressure of the baby’s head low down in her pelvis, and with each contraction, she may feel strong urges to bear down. Mum will listen to her body, and push in response to the urges – taking a few breaths between pushes, if that’s what feels right.
With every push, the baby will move further through the pelvis, but at the end of the contraction, he/she will probably slip back a little again. This is normal and gives the muscles of the pelvic floor time to stretch gradually. As long as the baby keeps gradually moving down, Mum is doing fine.
When the baby’s head is visible at the entrance to the vagina and stays there when the contraction has ended, this is referred to as crowning.
The midwife will tell Mum when she can see the baby’s head, and may ask her to stop pushing and blow or sigh out her breaths. This helps Mum to resist the urge to bear down for two contractions or three contractions, so that the baby is born gently and slowly.
Taking this approach may help to protect the perineum (the area between the vulva and anus). Mum probably feel a hot, stinging sensation, as the opening of her vagina starts to stretch around her baby’s head. The midwife may use warm compresses to support the perineum as it stretches to help to prevent a tear.
Once the baby is born, he/she will be dried off with a clean towel and then placed onto Mum’s tummy or chest for skin-to-skin.
Third Stage of Labour
The third stage of labour begins once the baby is born, and ends when Mum delivers the placenta and the empty bag of waters that are attached to the placenta (membranes). These come away as the womb contracts down after the birth.
Contractions will be noticeable but weaker when they begin again. The placenta will peel away from the wall of the womb and move down the birth canal into the vagina. Mum may get the urge to push as this happens.
It’s routine to be offered an injection for the third stage that helps your womb to contract down and the placenta to come away (managed third stage). This may cause side-effects such as nausea and vomiting, because of the drugs used. There will be no need to do any pushing, as once it’s detached, the midwife will gently pull out the placenta and membranes.
If all went well with the pregnancy and labour, Mum can choose to have a natural (physiological) third stage. This is when you deliver the placenta without an injection. Upright positions, skin-to-skin contact with baby, and starting to breastfeed, may all help to stimulate contractions to help delivery of the placenta.
Whether Mum as a natural or a managed third stage, it is recommended to wait at least a few minutes before clamping the cord, which will benefit baby. While all this is going on, Mum will be cuddling and getting to know her newborn better.
So the journey of 9 months, the labour and delivery has come to an end and laying in your arms is your newborn.
To find out what happens after the birth and the following weeks then click onto any of these wonderful websites:
They all contain so much wonderful information as my job is now is to let you know what happens to your body from here and the journey back to recovery and when it is and isn’t safe to return to exercise…the core of my work.
To all expectant Mums everywhere, all the very best for a healthy pregnancy, the birth of your choosing, the positive mindset if it doesn’t go as planned, and a healthy baby boy or girl.
Happy Birth, Happy Mum, Happy Baby!
- NHS UK
- Baby Centre