First stage of labor
During the first stage, your cervix will dilate until reach 10 centimeters wide, which is experienced through contractions. The first stage of labor is broken into phases: Early labor and active labor and transition.
Early labor phase
Official early labor is marked by the onset of contractions, increasing in frequency and lasting 30 to 90 seconds until your cervix is dilated to three centimeters. According to the Mayo Clinic, early labor can span from two hours to many days, and is unpredictable.
Coping with early labor is often done at home, where the most important key is to relax. Try to engage in light activities or entertainment to distract you while saving your energy for the labor and delivery process.
>> Learn how to handle an unexpected home birth
Active labor and transition phase
During active labor, contractions will get stronger, last longer and occur more frequently in an effort to dilate your cervix to 10 centimeters. This marks the time you'll want to head to the hospital.
Coping with active labor can involve relaxation techniques such as Lamaze, engaging in distractions like a card game or music and changing positions. "Most women are put on their backs and this position increases the risk of tearing and places stress on the muscles in the pelvic floor," advises Marilyn Curl, president of Lamaze International. "Pushing in an upright position, such as squatting or semi-sitting, allows the woman to take advantage of gravity to help the baby's progress and reduces the risk of damage to the woman's pelvic floor."
Transition also occurs during the active labor stage, marking your cervix's progress from seven to 10 centimeters wide. Some women experience symptoms of transition, such as shivering, intense emotions and restlessness, as well as the ultimate urge to push. Should you feel like you need to push, notify your nurse immediately -- it may be go time!
Second stage of labor
The second stage of labor is the moment you've been waiting for -- you get to push! With your physician's guidance, you will work with your contractions to push your baby out the birth canal and into the outside world.
The delivery stage can take a few minutes to several hours, intermixed with instances where you push with all your might -- and sometimes instructed not to push at all. Once your baby's head is delivered, the doctor will check that your baby's neck is not tangled in the umbilical cord, your newborn's airways will be cleared and the shoulders and rest of the body will follow.
Third stage of labor
In the third stage of labor, you will deliver the placenta. With baby in arms, your focus is on your bundle of joy. But there's still a little work to be done! Within five to 10 minutes after the birth of your baby, your doctor will help you deliver the placenta. You may be asked to push one more time.
Once your placenta is delivered, the nurses will massage your abdomen to encourage your uterus to contract and minimize bleeding. While you're focusing on skin-to-skin contact and nursing your newborn, you may also be given Pitocin in your IV to help your uterus contract. You will also receive stitches if an episiotomy or tearing was involved.
||Long before your first sign of labor, keeping in shape is key to maintaining your endurance through all three stages of labor. With your doctor's permission, be sure to engage in prenatal exercises to ensure that you're up to par when it comes to the main event!
More on labor and delivery
8 Natural ways to induce labor
Am I in labor? 6 signs labor is starting
Coping with labor-related fears