The 4 Stages Of Labour And Delivery You Need To Know

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You won’t exactly know how labor would go until you are in it, but you can prepare. That is why understanding what happens in the 4 stages of labor and delivery matters.


What Is Labour?

Labour is the natural process that involves the birth of a newborn into the world. The Labour process is when the fetus and placenta leave the uterus through the vagina to the outside world and what happens after.

Labour is done in 2 ways, vaginally ( through the birth canal), natural, and C-section (using surgery).

I write on the 4 stages of labor and delivery for a natural birth, what to expect during labor as a first-time mom and how many stages of labor there are.

I will explain the stages of labor in detail but bear in mind that labor is quite a mystery, for each labor is quite similar yet so different.

Do not be surprised if your first pregnancy and labor are entirely different from the others. It is something that you should prepare your mind for.

stages of labor and delivery, phases of labor


1.  The First Stage Of Labor

It begins with mild and slightly painful contractions, similar to menstrual cramps. These contractions are pretty different from the Braxton Hicks contractions. Braxton Hicks’s contractions are not painful.

When you feel these menstrual-like pains with contractions, especially when accompanied by a bloody show ( a mucus-like liquid mixed with blood from the vagina), you know the labor has started.

Contractions start because of the dilation and effacement of the cervix. A sign that labor has begun is that the cervix begins to dilate, opening up and softening. It also stretches and thins (effacement). During pregnancy, a mucus membrane tightly covers the cervix preventing bacteria and infection from getting to the uterus.

This membrane is called the mucus plug. At about the last week of pregnancy, around the 37th week, when the baby’s head drops into the pelvis, the pressure from the baby’s head will cause dilation and effacement of the cervix, releasing the mucus plug through the vagina.

It is called a bloody show, and mild contractions accompany it. The bloody show may continue for hours, even days. The cervix will keep dilating, and when it is fully dilated, the baby can be delivered. Labour is said to have begun when the cervix has dilated to about four cm. It is called established labor.

The process of labor is when the movement of the baby through the birth canal. There are 4 stages of labor and delivery. The first stage of labor is usually the longest. It is divided into two phases: the latent phases, otherwise called early labor, and the active phase.


The Early Stage Of Labor

This stage is when the woman experiences mild irregular contractions that can last up to several hours, even days. Since the time frame is unpredictable, you won’t have to rush to the hospital immediately. You start feeling these contractions for delivery may still be a few hours away.

The early phase of labor is usually longer for first-time moms and shorter for those women who have had kids before. This stage of work isn’t particularly painful or uncomfortable, so you can try to busy yourself.

I bet you will be excited or unsure and myriad other feelings running through your mind, and it is entirely normal. Try to calm your nerves and not get too worked up. Busy yourself with deep breathing, meditation, and other relaxation techniques.

Have a shower, watch a movie, listen to calming music, cook, go for a walk, check your hospital bag to see that you are not missing anything, eat and most importantly, conserve your strength.

As time runs, the contractions will become more frequent painful. You may want to head off to the hospital (if you aim to have a hospital birth) when you experience any of these symptoms,
The contractions are becoming more regular and painful.

  • If your water breaks.
  • You experience bleeding.
  • Or you are getting anxious.

When you get to the hospital, they will want to check if your labor is established. The medics would do a cervical examination to see how well the cervix has dilated. If it is not up to four centimeters, they may tell you to go back home or be put on bed rest.

The early labor phase takes up to 8 to 12 hours for first-time moms, but it is usually quicker, about four to five hours for moms who have had children.


Active Labor Phase

Once the cervix has dilated up to six centimeters, it can be said the active stage of labor has begun. This stage usually runs from 6 centimeters to 10 centimeters, which is when the hard work begins. The contractions are generally stronger, more painful, and more frequent, about 3 to 5 minutes apart.

Other symptoms experienced are restlessness, backache, waist pain, tightness of the abdomen, and the pressure to push when the baby is near. This stage of labor usually lasts for four to 8 hours, sometimes even more, for it may take an hour for the cervix to dilate to another centimeter.

It was the most challenging part of my labor. The contractions and especially the backaches seemed unbearable. If you have a hospital birth, you should already be in the hospital by this time, but you should head off to the hospital as soon as possible if you have not gone.

At this stage, the water usually breaks though sometimes it doesn’t, and the midwives may have to pop up the amniotic sack; this process is called artificial rupture of the membrane (ARM). Rupturing of the membrane usually speeds up the contractions making it stronger and more painful.


Tips For Managing Labor Symptoms In This Stage Are

Change positions frequently; make sure you try different suitable positions for you. It would make you feel more relieved and comfortable.

You can take a warm shower or stay in a bathtub if it makes you more comfortable. Try to move around and find ways to distract yourself. Massage is a great way to ease back and waist pains.

You can practice deep breathing, rolling on a birthing ball, talking with your partner or friends, or even a doula can help you feel relief and ease the pains.

If the pains are unbearable, speak with your doctor for pain medications. The health team will constantly monitor you and the baby to see how well you are faring during labor.

They can do this using a small device in your baby bump to listen to the baby’s heart rate. Monitoring can be done every 15 minutes. They also check the cervix every hour to see how well it has dilated.

Suppose an electronic monitor is used to monitor the baby. They will strap two pads to the bump, and you’ll be able to see the contractions and the baby’s heartbeat from the monitor.

This monitoring, however, does restrict movements in the labor room. They can also use a fetal heart monitor for monitoring the baby’s heartbeat.

The good thing is that it can be taken off when you see that the baby’s heartbeat is normal. A fetal scalp monitor is also used for labor monitoring.

Sometimes labor doesn’t progress the way it is supposed to. Though the contractions have started, it could take too long to progress or not go after some point.

It can put the mother and the baby at risk as she may become too tired and weak and the baby in fetal distress, so the doctors and nurses will have to speed up labor.

They can do this in 2 ways, by artificial rupture of the membrane that is popping the membrane that holds the baby to make the water burst if the woman’s water hasn’t already burst.

ARM increases contractions and speeds up the labor process. However, the contraction becomes more intense and painful. They can also give the woman oxytocin, also called Synotocinon drip. Oxytocin will make the contraction progress faster.

The last stage of the active stage of labor is called the transition stage. The contraction is at its peak at this stage, and it is very close, about 60 to 90 seconds apart, with an intense backache, pressure in the rectum, sometimes vomiting or shaking, and in some women, they feel the need to push so firmly.

This stage is usually concise, 15 to 60 minutes on average. The contractions may end after this stage before the woman completely dilates, though this doesn’t happen to all women.

The key to coping in this first stage of labor is to conserve your strength as much as possible. When the contractions are less intense and painful in the Latent phase, take a light meal or drink to keep up your energy level because you will need it in this second stage.

The time interval between each contraction is vital. Learn to take lots of air during that time, take few bites and relax before another contraction; this is how to manage labor.


2.  The Second Stage Of Labor (Delivery Of The Baby)

It is the stage of labor when the baby is born; when the cervix is fully dilated that begins the second stage of labor.
The woman is ready to deliver her baby. The delivery stage can last for 30 minutes or thereabout. It is usually longer for first-time moms and women who have had an epidural.

When the cervix is fully dilated, the baby will start moving from the uterus down to the birth canal towards the vagina. It causes an urge to poo or push that some women feel.

It is best to follow the direction of the midwives when pushing so you do not forcefully push out the baby and end up with tears.

The vagina and the muscles in the perineum would need time to expand and stretch while pushing out the baby, so you may need to pause for a while, take some breath, then push again.

Doing this repeatedly will give the vagina time to stretch. You can also try out different positions for delivery: kneeling, squatting, standing, or lying that is easier for you.

Sometimes, the midwives will make a small cut in the perineum so that the woman does not tear and create more room for the baby’s passage.

When the baby’s head is out, the midwives will assist in bringing the baby out. Some women may need assistance for their delivery. Forceps or vacuum extraction may help them bring out the baby.

It is mainly done when the woman is too tired to push. Once the baby is born, the nurse may do a suction to clear the airway. The umbilical cord is cut and clamped.

Next is to establish the baby and the mother’s bond or establish skin-to-skin contact. It is essential in the first few hours after birth. They would also encourage the woman to put the baby on the breast.


3.  The 3rd Stage Of Labor (Delivery Of The Placenta)

Delivery of the baby comes with a lot of relief, but the work is not done just yet. The placenta that served to nourish the baby in the womb will have to be delivered as well.

Mild or no contractions may accompany delivery of the placenta. Midwives may help massage the woman’s abdomen, and the woman will push once more, and the placenta will be delivered.

The midwife will massage the abdomen to check if the uterus is firm. Usually, there will be some blood and lochia gushing out as they do this.

Massaging the abdomen will help the uterus return to the pre-pregnancy state. After cleaning up, the doctors may do an episiotomy stitch if the woman had a big tear while pushing out the baby.

A local anesthetic injection is usually given in that area to numb the pain. If the delivery of the placenta is delayed, the woman may be given a shot of oxytocin injection in the thigh to make the uterus contract.

In some women, the third stage of labor progresses smoothly without massaging the abdomen or an oxytocin injection.

It is called psychological management. The obstetric will check if the placenta is delivered intact if not, it will have to be removed; any retained placenta product can cause infections.


4.  The 4th Stage Of Labor (The Recovery Stage)

It comes up immediately after the delivery of the placenta. It is everything that happens after childbirth.
The uterus begins to contract slowly, and the woman’s body recovers from the hard work that has just been done. Breastfeeding stimulates the contraction of the uterus as well as oxytocin.

At this stage of labor, women usually feel tired, dizzy and may find it difficult to urinate because of the swollen genital area.

There may be slight pain in the perineum, tremors, sometimes cold, and chills. After cleaning her up, the woman may take a warm shower if she feels up to it.

The nurses would clean the baby would be cleaned. It is encouraged to wait for few hours before giving the baby the first bath.

The woman who just delivered would be encouraged to take lots of fluids because she had lost some and will be giving out more while breastfeeding. Rest is also essential at this stage as well as eating to recuperate.

Isn’t labor such a wonderful process? The whole process of bringing a new being into this world is such a big deal, and it should be. Of course, the process of labor doesn’t precisely follow the same pattern, but every woman’s labor is similar to the 4 stages of labor explained above.


Save this for later mama!

What to expect during labor for first time moms

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Author: Thrivingmum

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