Well, that’s a big question isn’t it?
Unfortunately and beautifully, the only thing predictable about birth is that it’s unpredictable… However, there is a general flow and order to how labor starts, progresses and finishes.
Everyone is different, and no two births are identical, but today we will unpack the stages of labor to give you an idea about what’s to come!
WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN?
When you reach 37 weeks gestation, you are considered to have reached “full term”. In 2017 about 10% of babies in the U.S. were born pre-maturely (before 37 weeks in the womb).
IT DOESN’T ALWAYS START WITH YOUR WATER BREAKING!
Although the rupturing of membranes can be a sign of Early Labor – it’s definitely not the only indicator, and it also doesn’t necessarily mean labor will begin right away.
There are 3 stages of labor, and within them there are phases too.
It all starts with Early Labor.
Early labor is considered the onset of labor until your cervix is dilated to about 3cm and some effacement has taken place. During this time you should expect mild contractions with large gaps in between. My advice to you during this phase is to try and relax. If it starts during the day, go about your normal day as best as you can. If it starts during the night, try your best to sleep through as much of it as you can!
Early labor can last anywhere from 8-12+ hours! So seriously, rest while you can.
**Partner / birth team supporters: during early labor you can practice timing contractions for the laboring woman, and practice support methods as she desires them!**
Now is a good time to call your doula and your provider just to let them know that you are showing signs of labor starting soon! Yay!
Next, you’ll come into a time of Active Labor.
Active labor typically lasts about 3-5 hours. This is the phase you are going to want to get to your final destination. Whether that is the hospital, the birth center, or your living room… when active labor starts, you’re heading there now!
Contractions are going to last 45-60 seconds long now and will be stronger than before. They will also come and go closer together (usually every 3-5 minutes).
This is a great time for your partner / support team to really focus in and give you their full attention. You will have a harder time talking through your contractions now and will begin to really depend on the support around you. Massage, position changing, drinking water, providing extra pillows or warm blankets are all things she may want during this time.
Your cervix will dilate from 3-7 cm during this stage!
Moving on to Transition Labor!
Transition is no joke. The mother will be completely unable to be distracted here as this may be the most intense part of labor. Thankfully, transition is also the shortest phase lasting anywhere from 30 minutes – 2 hours. Your cervix will dilate now from 8-10 cm preparing for baby’s appearance!
Contractions during transition get longer, stronger, and can sometimes even overlap one another. Your body is working so hard together with your baby so that you can finally meet one another face-to-face… so keep remembering the prize at the end of this race!
You may experience hot flashes, cold flashes, nausea, etc. as this phase carries on.
Next comes pushing and delivering your baby.
You might push for 20 minutes, or you might push for 3 hours.
Contractions continue to help push the baby out and you will most likely “feel when to push”… although, a lot of women prefer to be coached by their doctor, midwife or doula on how and when to push.
Your baby will eventually “crown” or begin to show their head at the vaginal opening and stop slipping back. Surprisingly, at this time, you’re going to be asked to stop pushing and relax for a moment before you continue.
Just remember during this time of pushing, it’s a game of 2 steps forward and 1 step back. Baby is a human too, and they are doing some of the work of getting out into this world! Let it take it’s course and trust your instinct!
The final stage of labor is the Delivery of the Placenta.
Guess what? Contractions aren’t over yet even though your baby is now delivered. Nope, you still have a little ways to go. But, this stage is drastically easier than pushing because your placenta is kind of a mushy sac, rather than a boney, structured human who has a skull!
You may get some chills or become a little shaky as the placenta is delivered – this is completely normal and not a reason for concern.
And that’s it! Congratulations. You made it through all the stages and phases of labor.
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