Labor is a natural process of delivery. It has three stages. Throughout the labor, the body uses contractions to dilate and efface the cervix to deliver the baby and placenta.
What Are the Signs of Labor?
Labor can happen at any time; it is not predictable. The due date the doctor gives is a point of reference. The labor can occur as early as three weeks before that due date or as late as two weeks after it.
The following are signs of labor:
Lightening occurs when the baby's head drops down into the pelvis in preparation for delivery. The belly may drop to a lower position, and breathing may be easier because the baby no longer puts pressure on the lungs. But there will be an increased urge to urinate because the baby is pressing on the bladder. This can happen a few weeks to a few hours from the onset of labor.
Bloody Show - A blood-stained or brownish discharge from the cervix is the released mucus plug that seals the womb from infection. This can occur days before or during the onset of labor.
Ruptured Membranes - Fluid gushing or leaking from the vagina happens when the amniotic sac membranes that protect and surround the baby have ruptured. This typically occurs hours before labor starts or during labor. After the amniotic fluid rupture, most women go into labor within 24 hours. If labor does not occur naturally within 24 hours, the doctors may induce labor to prevent delivery complications and infections.
Diarrhea - When diarrhea happens frequently, it can be a sign of labor.
Contractions - Irregular contractions are usually expected when the labor nears. The contractions frequently occurring in less than 10 minutes are generally a sign of labor.
What Are the Stages of Labor?
Labor and delivery are divided into three stages.
1) First Stage of Labor
This is usually the most prolonged phase of labor with mild and irregular contractions. Early labor is also called the latent phase of labor. During this period, there will be thinning of the cervix, and the cervix dilates to 3-4 cm. It can happen over several days, weeks, or a few short hours.
During this phase, there might be a clear pink or slightly bloody discharge from the vagina, backache, or cramps.
Contractions vary during the early labor phase ranging from mild to strong and occur at regular or irregular intervals.
Most women will be in the hospital or preparing to go to the hospital during this period.
To promote comfort during early labor:
During the active phase, the cervix dilates from 3-4 cm to 7 cm. There will be stronger contractions, closer together and regular.
The symptoms during this period are leg cramps, backache, feeling nausea, and the water break that happens if it has not already broken.
Ask for pain medication or anesthesia from the health care team if wanted.
The transitional phase of labor is the most intense phase of labor, and it causes sharp and increased contractions, which occur about two to three minutes apart. The last 3 cm of dilation normally occurs in a short period.
2) The Second Stage of Labor
Delivery is the second stage of labor, and the cervix is fully dilated. Some women may urge to push right away or soon after the dilation is full. It may take some time for the baby to come down with contractions. Women who did not take an epidural typically have an overwhelming urge to push when the baby is low enough in the pelvis. At the same time, women with an epidural may still have an urge to push but not as intensely. During contractions, it is best to take rest and stay relaxed.
When it is time to push, the mother can experiment with different positions which they feel are comfortable and best, like squatting, sitting, and kneeling. Pushing more gently is required at some point, giving the vaginal tissues time to stretch rather than tear. After the baby's head is delivered, the baby's body will follow shortly.
The baby's airway will be cleared if necessary. The health care provider may wait seconds to minutes to cut the umbilical cord. Delaying clamping and cutting the umbilical cord increases the flow of nutrient-rich blood from the placenta and the cord to the baby. This causes an increase in the baby's iron stores, reduces the risk of anemia, and promotes healthy development and growth.
3) The Third Stage of Labor
Delivery of the Placenta
After the birth of the baby, the placenta will also be delivered. There will be mild, less painful contractions that are close together. These contractions help to move the placenta into the birth canal. A gentle push is needed to deliver the placenta. The doctor will check if the placenta is intact or not. Any placenta remnants must be removed from the uterus to prevent bleeding and infection. Stitching to repair a tear or surgical cut will occur after the placenta is delivered. If no anesthesia is provided, the health care provider will inject local anesthetic in the area to be stitched.
What Are Braxton Hicks Contractions?
A Braxton Hicks contraction is an irregular contraction that will feel like a sudden, sharp tightening of the abdominal muscles. Many women experience Braxton hicks contractions sometime after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It is triggered by an increase in either baby's or mother's activity or a full bladder. The Braxton Hicks contraction's role in pregnancy is not fully understood.
They may promote blood flow, prepare the uterus for childbirth, or help maintain uterine health during pregnancy. Even though this is similar to how a contraction feels, Braxton hicks contractions do not follow a pattern or progress over time. They may also stop when there is a change in position, lie down, or relax. Braxton Hicks contractions do not cause the cervix to dilate.
What Are the Methods to Induce Labor?
Labor does not start naturally or progress as it should. The doctors might induce labor. This is a medical procedure where the doctors start labor.
This could happen if you:
When a pregnancy has gone into 42 weeks.
Presence of complications with the mother or baby.
The water broke, but labor did not start.
Low levels of amniotic fluid.
Labor can be induced in several ways. Labor induction can take more than spontaneous labor because of the cervical ripening process. The healthcare provider will advise the best and safest option depending on the mother's health.
Inducing labor can be done by using:
Medications are given through an IV (directly into the vein).
Breaking the amniotic sac (water).
Separating the amniotic membrane from the uterine wall.
Softening the cervix and opening it with a medication that can be placed directly in the vagina.
What Should Be the Fetal Position During Labor?
Doctors regularly check the baby's position during prenatal visits. Babies normally change head-down positions between week 32 and week 36. But, some babies may not turn at all, and others turn into feet- or bottom-first position. Most doctors will try to turn a fetus into a head-down position by gently applying their hands to the mother's abdomen, using an ultrasound as guidance external cephalic version (ECV). The baby will be monitored during the procedure. ECVs are mostly successful and can reduce C-section delivery.
During pregnancy, most mothers will be excited and nervous. It is normal. And when nearing labor, they will be confused about what to expect. Discussing the signs and symptoms with the doctors can help the mother to know what to expect. If any signs of labor occur, reach the hospital as soon as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions