Labour is just as the word describes – hard work. Some suggest it is like running a marathon. The closest men will ever feel to labour pains is passing a kidney stone! We do not wish that upon anyone.
It is normal to fear childbirth. Do not think ‘I have a poor pain tolerance I won’t cope’. Women are extraordinary beings. Don’t talk yourself into feeling ‘pain’. Labour is different for everyone- some women have even been known to have orgasms during labour!
Here, a midwife discusses the stages of labour and how you can help yourself.
The first stage of labour
This can go for a couple of days. This stage can be confused with Braxton-Hicks, but unlike Braxton-Hicks, contractions are regular and rhythmic. Some women do not even feel the majority of this first stage. During this stage your cervix starts to thin and dilate up to 10cm. The first stage of labour ends when you are 10cm dilated. If you have got to 40 weeks gestation and still not entered the first stages of labour.
Signs of Labour
- Your membranes (waters) break. Note the colour and time. If you have green, fresh blood or brown coloured waters notify your doctor or hospital. If your membranes have broken and labour hasn’t started within a couple of hours, also notify your local hospital.
- ‘Bloody Show’: this is blood stained mucous. It is a sign your cervix is starting to thin and dilate. Not everyone has a show.
- Contractions begin as described above. The timing of contractions is important. They are timed from the start of one until the start of the next. If your contractions are about five minutes apart and are regular, ring your hospital.
- You may have loose bowel motions or have vomiting urges.
- Lower back pain is quite usual.
What to do during the first stage
- Staying home for as long as you can cope is the best option if you have a healthy uncomplicated pregnancy. If you have concerns with your pregnancy your doctor may ask you to come in as soon as you have signs of labour.
- Have regular small snacks. Avoid large meals. Eat foods that prolong your energy. Carbohydrates are easily digested and can offer a quick energy boost. Cereals, pasta, plain crackers, bananas, toast and yoghurt are all good options.
- Keep up your fluids.
- Go to the toilet regularly.
- Enjoy a bath and/or a shower.
- Try some relaxation techniques you may have learnt whilst being pregnant.
- Listen to calming music.
- Rest, snooze, conserve energy.
- Gentle walking to allow gravity to do its thing!
When should I go to hospital?
- If you suspect you are in labour and are under 37 weeks gestation call your hospital immediately. If you have any concerns at all also notify the hospital.
- Call the hospital before you decide to go in so they can prepare for you and speak to you about your labour, as it may not be suitable for you to go in just yet. Sometimes labour is slowed when you go to hospital too early.
- If you pass blood, notify the hospital.
The second stage of labour
This is the time you are getting very close to meeting your baby. The cervix is fully dilated and the pushing begins to birth your baby.
- The contractions are stronger and closer together.
- You may have an urge to use your bowels (urge to push). You may feel stretching and burning like a Chinese burn in your vagina.
What to do in the second stage?
- Try not to panic!
- Rest in between contractions as you need to conserve energy.
- Listen to your doctor and/or midwife, they will guide you through the next part of the birth.
- Try not to fight it, listen to your body.
- Try different positions to birth. All fours, standing, sitting, squatting, birth stools, birth balls.
- Cold face washer to your face can be soothing when you’re working hard.
- Jump in the shower – hot water on an aching back can really help.
- Use hot packs if the hospital allows.
- Keep up your fluids, suck on ice.
Pushing is a weird experience. The baby feels like it is coming out of your bottom and the muscles you automatically use are the ones to pass a bowel motion. If you feel this then you are pushing effectively. Don’t be concerned if you do poo in labour, many women do! If it’s getting too much remember to breathe and trust and listen to the midwife with you.
The third and final stage of labour
Congratulations you have had your baby but it’s not over just yet. You still need to pass the placenta. In most hospitals the midwife will give you an injection of oxytocin to assist the placenta to come away from the uterus. Some women get strong contractions and the feeling of fullness in the vagina before the placenta passes. The midwife/doctor will talk you through this stage.
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