When you are ready to have your baby, you’ll go through labor. Labor is the process of giving birth. Soon, you will experience the amazing process of childbirth. Finding out signs of labor and stages of labor will help you know what to expect.
Signs That Signify Labor Is Nearing
Your due date is just a general idea of when your labor may start. Labor can start any time between 3 weeks before and 2 weeks after the due date. As you approach your due date, you may experience the following signs that signify that labor is near:
Lightening: Lightening happens when your baby’s head “drops” down into your pelvis. Your belly will look lower. It will be easier for you to breathe because the baby is not putting pressure on your lungs. You may need to urinate more often because the baby is pressing on your bladder. For first-time mothers, lightening often happens a few weeks before birth. For women who have had babies before, it may not happen until labor has begun.
Bloody Discharge: If you have bloody or brownish discharge from your vagina, it may mean your cervix has begun to dilate. The mucous plug that sealed your cervix for the last 9 months may be visible. This is a good sign. But active labor may still be days away.
Your Baby Moves Less: You may notice that your baby’s movements are less and feel different. This is happens in late pregnancy as your baby has less room to move. If you feel abnormally less movement, call your doctor, as sometimes decreased movement can mean that the baby is in trouble.
Your Water Breaks: When the amniotic sac (bag of fluid around the baby) breaks, you will experience fluid leakage from your vagina. The leakage may be a trickle or a gush. Contractions come within 24 hours after the bag of water breaks in most women. Inform you doctor as soon as you think your water has broken.
Diarrhea: Some women have the urge to go to the bathroom often to empty their bowels. This may be a sign that you may be going into labor.
Nesting: A lot of women feel the sudden urge to “nest” right before labor starts. Nesting means a pregnant woman gets overwhelming desire to get ready for the baby by doing several things at odd hours. If you feel the need to wash and clean the entire house at midnight or put everything in place in the baby’s nursery, you may be getting ready for labor.
Signs Of False Labor
Most women, especially first-time mothers-to-be, think they are in labor when they’re not. This is called false labor. You may feel mild contractions before true labor begins. These are called “Braxton Hicks contractions”. These mild contractions are not a sign of true labor if they:
- Are typically short
- Are not painful
- Don’t come at regular intervals
- Are not accompanied by bleeding, leaking fluid, or decreased fetal movement
Signs Of True Labor
With true labor, contractions become regular, stronger, and more frequent. Braxton Hicks contractions are not in a regular pattern, and they taper off and go away. Some women find that a change in activity, such as walking or lying down, makes Braxton Hicks contractions go away. This won’t happen with true labor. In real labor, the contractions will:
- Come regularly and get closer together
- Last from 30 to 70 seconds, and will get longer
- Not stop, no matter what you do
- Radiate (reach) into your lower back and upper belly
- Get stronger or become more intense as time goes on
- Make you unable to talk to other people or laugh at a joke
Call your provider right away if you have:
- Regular, painful contractions every 5 to 10 minutes for 60 minutes
- Leaking amniotic fluid
- Decreased fetal movement
- Any vaginal bleeding other than light spotting
Stages Of Labor
Labor occurs in three stages. When regular contractions begin, the baby moves down into the pelvis as the cervix thins, widens, and opens. How labor progresses and how long it lasts are different for every woman. But each stage features some milestones that are true for every woman.
First Stage: The first stage of labor begins with the onset of contractions and ends when the cervix is fully opened. The first stage usually lasts around 12 to 19 hours. It is the longest stage of labor, which involves three phases; early labor phase, active labor phase, and transition labor phase. In the early labor phase, you need not go to the hospital. You can spend your time at home. You might want to rest, watch TV, hang out with family, or even go for a walk. While at home, record the time your contractions and keep your doctor up to date on your progress. Your doctor will tell you when to go to the hospital or birthing center.
At the hospital, your doctor will monitor the progress of your labor by periodically checking your cervix, as well as the baby’s position and station. Station means location of the baby in the birth canal. Most babies’ heads enter the pelvis facing to one side, and then rotate to face down. Sometimes, a baby will be facing up, towards the mother’s abdomen. This position is associated with intense back labor. Your doctor might try to rotate the baby or the baby might turn on its own.
Contractions become longer, stronger, and closer together as you near the end of the first stage of labor. You have to try and find the most comfortable position during contractions and to let your muscles go limp between contractions. Let your labor coach or support person know what kind of help is needed. Rubbing your lower back, giving you ice chips to suck, or putting a cold washcloth on your forehead can help you relax.
If labor progresses slowly, your doctor might use medicines and other methods to help speed up labor. Mostly, many doctors rupture the membranes.
Your doctor will monitor your baby with an electronic fetal monitor to see if baby is doing okay. This involves putting two straps around your abdomen. One strap measures the strength and frequency of your contractions and the other strap records how the baby’s heartbeat reacts to the contractions.
Transition phase is the most difficult in the first stage of labor. Contractions are very powerful, with very little time to relax in between, as the cervix stretches the last few centimeters. Many pregnant women feel shaky or nauseated. The cervix is fully dilated when it reaches 10 centimeters.
Second Stage: In the second stage, the baby twists and turns through the birth canal. This stage involves pushing and delivering your baby. It usually lasts 20 minutes to two hours. You have to push hard during contractions, and rest between contractions. Pushing is hard work, which needs support of person to help you keep calm and focused. A pregnant woman can give birth in many positions, such as squatting, sitting, kneeling, or lying back. Giving birth in an upright position, such as squatting, appears to have some benefits. The benefits include shortening this stage of labor and helping to keep the tissue near the birth canal intact. You might find certain positions make it easier to push and more comfortable. You should choose the birth position that feels best to you.
When your baby’s head fully appears, your doctor will tell you when to push and deliver your baby. Your doctor may make an episiotomy (a small cut) to enlarge the vaginal opening. Most women in childbirth do not need episiotomy. Sometimes, forceps (tool shaped like salad-tongs) or suction is used to help push the baby gently through the birth canal. This is called assisted vaginal delivery. Doctor will cut the umbilical cord after your baby is born.
Third Stage: The third stage occurs after the baby’s birth. It involves delivery of the placenta. It is the shortest stage, which lasts about 5 to 30 minutes. You will feel the beginning of the contractions 5 to 30 minutes after birth, signaling that it’s time to deliver the placenta. You might have chills or shakiness. Labor is considered to be over once the placenta is delivered. Your doctor will repair the episiotomy and any tears that might have occurred. Now is the most exciting time to and enjoy your newborn baby.