What Really Happens During Labour?
Labour can be a terrifying experience for any woman, whether they have been through it before or not. I know when having my first child, the thought of labour was terrifying. I find that the more I know about what is happening to my body, the more I can prepare myself for what is to come. I found my first labour rather quite pleasant! I used Entinox (Gas and Air) only. My subsequent pregnancies were both C-sections, and unfortunately, I am not allowed to try natural labour this time round, which I am really rather saddened about as it would have been nice to experience a natural delivery again. I know I’m mad!!
Every labour and delivery is different, but here is a little bit of information on what really happens during labour.
The Three Stages of Labour
The purpose of labour and contractions are to help push the baby out from your body. During this process your cervix will dilate to 10cms or become ‘fully’ dilated, soon after your body will want to start pushing and your baby will be born, this is then followed by the delivery of the placenta.
The first stage can start in many ways and it will feel different for everyone. You may experience the following:
- a slightly upset stomach
- feeling sick or nauseous
- period like pains
- feeling slightly under the weather
All of this can be explained by the huge physical and hormonal changes going on inside your body.
Contractions will become more regular and painful during this first stage and once this happens, your labour will have become established and you will have moved out of ‘early’ labour. In established labour, your contractions will occur about three or four times in ten minutes and during these labour pains it will be difficult to speak. At this point you will be offered pain relief if you require it.
During this first stage you may have a ‘show’ which is a very mucousy plug that has until now sealed the cervix. There is no definite point when this is expected and you may have it earlier than stage one or sometimes it can be seen just before you give birth.
Breaking Waters (Amniotic Fluid)
If your waters break before your labour starts, make a note of the time, contact your local maternity unit immediately and wear a sanitary towel until you see a midwife.
When you are in labour your waters will at some point break or they may be broken for you. The Amniotic Fluid is generally clear and straw coloured, some women experience a trickle and others a gush. If your waters break in early labour the risk of infection in increased so it is very important to keep the vaginal area clean. Do not use tampons, have sex or have a bath.
This begins when your midwife or doctor informs you that you are fully dilated or ‘10’cms, or when you have an overwhelming urge to push. This stage will end with the birth of your baby.
The second stage may take over an hour or more to complete if this is your first baby. However with subsequent babies it may be much quicker.
Once your baby’s head is visible, your midwife will help you control the delivery of the head. She may ask you to stop pushing and pant instead. The aim is to push out the head with the help of a contraction in a controlled manner either with the midwife’s hand on the baby’s head or just guiding you with your breathing.
When your baby is born, the midwife will place him or her on to your chest for some skin to skin contact.
Once you’ve given birth it may come as a surprise to you that there is a third stage of labour which is when you give birth to the placenta. However the third stage, does not require much effort from you, but is vitally important in terms of your post natal health.
You may choose to have an injection to help move this along (usually a drug called Syntometrine) or you may choose the natural option which could take up to an hour. The injection, which is given just after the birth of your little one, usually means the whole process is over within fifteen minutes. You will usually get more contractions to help deliver the placenta and then all you need to do is gently push it out from your vagina. The actual delivery of the placenta will not hurt you.
Some women are surprised to get further pains (similar to contractions) for a while after they have given birth. These are called ‘after pains’ and are they are caused by your uterus contracting back to its pre pregnancy size. These pains may be stronger during breastfeeding as this releases the hormone Oxytocin which is the same hormone that made your uterus contract during labour. Breastfeeding helps your uterus contract and in fact if you feel these pains during breastfeeding it is a good sign that your baby is latched on and feeding well.
Finally, the midwife will check that your uterus is well contracted by placing her hand on your abdomen near your belly button. This is very important as a poorly contracted uterus may cause excessive bleeding post natally. She will then check the placenta and membranes to make sure they are all complete as any retained parts could cause infection or bleeding.