Signs of Labor – As your due date approaches, you will begin to look for signs that labor is about to start. “Lightening,” is the term used to describe the baby moving to the head-down position. It releases pressure on the mother’s abdomen. Your doctor may do a pelvic exam during a prenatal visit and report changes in your cervix that you cannot feel. These changes suggest that your body is getting ready. Some women go through “nesting.” This is a flurry of energy and the impulse to cook or clean.
Signs of Labor (These signs suggest that labor may begin very soon and you need to contact your doctor or midwife.)
Contractions become stronger at regular and increasingly shorter intervals.
Lower back pain and cramping that does not go away.
Water breaks (can be a large gush or a continuous trickle).
Bloody (brownish or red-tinged) mucus discharge. This is probably the mucus plug that blocks the cervix. This means the cervix is dilating (opening up) and becoming thinner and softer (effacing). Labor could start soon or may still be days away.
False Labor – Sometimes women think they are in labor when they are not. “Practice” contractions called Braxton Hicks contractions are common in the last weeks of pregnancy. The uterus tightens and might startle you with some that might be painful. With true labor, the contractions will become regular, stronger, and more frequent. Braxton Hicks are not in a regular pattern and will taper off and go away. Many women will mistake Braxton Hicks contractions for real labor contractions. It can be hard to tell so if you are unsure if contractions are true labor, call your doctor.
Stages of Labor for Vaginal Birth – Every woman’s labor progresses differently. However, the three stages of labor feature some milestones that are true for every woman.
First Stage of Labor:
Second Stage of Labor:
This stage involves pushing and delivery of the baby. It usually lasts 20 minutes to two hours.
When the baby crowns (head fully appears), the doctor will tell you when to push and deliver the baby.
Sometimes an episiotomy is needed. This is a small cut to enlarge the vaginal opening.
Sometimes, forceps or suction is used to help guide the baby through the birth canal. This is an assisted vaginal delivery.
After the baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut.
Third Stage of Labor:
Cesarean delivery, also called a c-section, is delivery of a baby by surgery. The baby is taken out through the mother’s abdomen. It is surgery and healing takes longer than with vaginal birth. Most healthy pregnancies result in a vaginal delivery. However, the number of c-sections has risen from 1 in 5 in 1995 to nearly 1 in 3 women today. It is important to get the facts about
c-sections before delivery. The mother should find out what c-sections are, why they are performed, and the pros and cons of this surgery.
Reasons for C-sections – The doctor might recommend a c-section if it appears to be safer for the mother or the baby than a vaginal birth. Some c-sections are planned but most c-sections are done when unexpected problems happen during delivery.
Some studies show that the benefits of having a c-section may outweigh the risks when:
Resources for Stages of Development and Labor and Delivery
Website – Womenshealth.gov, Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
“The First 9 Months,” by Vicki L. Dihle, PA-C and Bradley G. Beck, M.D. and Focus on the Family