Labour: What to Expect

What exactly happens when you have a baby? Read our guide on what to expect when you go into labour.

 

What are the different stages of labour?

1.    First stage: contractions will begin and your cervix will gradually open. This opening is called dilation

2.    Second stage: you’ll push your baby out

3.    Third stage: you’ll deliver the placenta

 

Stage 1: How will I know if I’m going into labour?
You should start to notice when you first go into labour because you’ll probably experience 2 things. You’ll have:
·         strong, regular contractions. Sometimes these can be confused with false labour pains, called Braxton Hicks, but you should still go to the hospital or get in touch with your midwife even if you’re not sure whether they’re real or not.

  • a ‘show’. This is when a sticky plug of mucus with some blood from your cervix comes away.
    You may also experience:
  • your water breaking – in some cases, but not always
  • nausea and vomiting. Don’t worry if this happens – it means the labour is progressing normally

 

What can I expect from the contractions?

Contractions start off feeling like period cramps, and then get gradually stronger and last longer.

Initially they made be intermittent, but will gradually start to arrive at regular intervals. You’ll know your labour is progressing when your contractions last roughly 30-60 seconds and occur every 5 minutes. As you go further into your labour, they will get longer and closer together.
What can I expect when my waters break?

This can happen before or during labour. Your baby is developing inside an amniotic sac of fluid inside your womb. When it’s time for you to give birth, this sac breaks. The water may look slightly yellow, like urine and can have a little blood in it. But if you’re losing more than a little blood, or if your waters smell, let your midwife know.

 

Stage 2: How will I know when it’s time to push?

The contractions are gradually opening up your cervix, which is the entrance to your womb. By the time it’s time for you to push, your cervix should be about open at about 10cm in diameter. At this stage, the baby should have turned around in the womb so their head is positioned downwards.

 

What’s a breech birth?

If your baby doesn’t turn to a head-first position, you could have a breech birth where the baby is born feet or bottom first.  This may mean you’ll need to have a Caesarean.

 

When do I start to push?

Once your cervix is fully dilated, the midwife will tell you to breathe and push. With each contraction, you’ll probably have the urge to push. And after every push your baby should be slowly moving down in your pelvis.

You may feel a hot, stinging sensation as your vagina stretches around the baby’s head. The midwife may tell you to stop pushing once they can see the baby’s head. This is so the baby is born gently and slowly. This helps your vagina to stretch gradually and avoids tearing. It may feel particularly hard to resist the urge to push, but you’re nearly there! And you’ll soon meet your baby for the first time.

 

Stage 3: What happens to the placenta?
Once your baby has been born, you’ll need to birth the placenta. This is the organ that’s been feeding your baby while they’ve been growing in your womb. You should have a few moments to enjoy with your newborn before the second wave of contractions start.

How long does it take to birth the placenta?

It can take up to an hour to birth the placenta, but it’s usually much quicker than that. Things that can help move the process along are:

  • Starting to breastfeed your baby: this can help stimulate hormones that cause contractions. It’s also a good way to get breastfeeding started <link to breastfeeding basics>
  • Having skin-to-skin contact: this can also help stimulate contractions
  • Sitting upright: can also help speed this stage along
  • Try to relax or have a hot drink: after the birth you’ll most likely feel exhausted. Remember, this is the last hurdle before you can give all your attention to your new arrival!

 

What about after the birth? Read about looking after your newborn’s skin.

 

Did you know…?

Even once your contractions start, it can take up to 6-12 hours for labour to begin. So you may initially be sent home from the hospital to rest.

 

How dads can help

Know what your partner wants so you can explain it to the doctor if she’s not able to talk. Does she want pain medication? Or an epidural? If she has a birth plan, take it with you to the hospital.

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