There are broadly around three stages of labor from the time the true labor pains begin to the delivery and finally the follow through where the placenta is delivered.
The first stage of labor is the longest with the early or the latent phase followed by the active phase and the transition phase. During the early stage the cervix dilates to 4 centimeters and this stage can last from 12 to 16 hours for first time mothers or 6 to 7 hours for others. The contractions during this stage start from being irregular to progressively rhythmic and more methodical. The pain experienced during this stage is similar to menstrual pain with cramps, backaches and a feeling of fullness. There could be false labor or false alarms which might be experienced by some women who may have to go back home until they experience true labor. It is more comfortable to walk rather than sit at this stage and you need to practice relaxing.
Then is the active labor stage which consists of more intensive and regular contractions and it is necessary to get you hospitalized. The contractions will reduce to smaller intervals and you may experience a tightening in your pubic area with increasing pressure on your back. Your labor partner’s support is very crucial at this stage and you can start practicing your breathing techniques which will assist you while taking long breaths during the actual delivery. The doctor will ask various questions such as the frequency of the contractions, whether the water bag has broken or if there is any discharge or bleeding. Pain killers or epidurals can be induced at this stage to reduce the pain.
Next comes, the transition stage where the cervix opens up to 10 centimeters and the pain can be severe as the cervix stretches to let the baby descend into the birth canal. This is the shortest stage and at the end of it you might feel like pushing the baby out.
This stage can last for two hours or more till the baby is born. At this stage, the baby’s head pushes the vagina and perineum which can cause a burning sensation and some women might feel like they are having a bowel movement. At this stage the nurse or physician will tell you when to push and when to stop because pushing too early can cause the cervix to swell. As the widest part of the head emerges you are required to make a few pushes and the baby is born. The mucous and amniotic fluid will be removed from the baby’s mouth and nose. The baby will take its first breath and begin to cry after which the umbilical cord which is still attached to the mother’s placenta will be clamped and cut off.
This is the last and shortest stage where the placenta is removed; you are cleaned and are observed closely for the next few hours for any excessive bleeding or abnormality. The nurse will massage you to check whether your uterus is contracting and you will need time to rest after the hectic delivery process.