First Stage of Labor
During the first stage of labor, regular contractions begin causing the cervix to dilate. At the end of the first stage, your cervix will be completely dilated. The first stage of labor consists of a latent phase and an active phase. In the latent phase, your cervix slowly dilates up to 3-4 centimeters (cm)—a process that can take 8 or more hours. It is marked by fairly mild contractions that last about 30-40 seconds and shorten to about 5 minutes apart.
The active first stage of labor starts when your cervix is about 3 cm dilated and lasts until you are fully dilated (10 cm). Contractions become more intense and closer together. The contractions become increasingly more painful. Some women request painkilling drugs and some women get an epidural to decrease pain. During this phase, you may want to change positions frequently, sit up, begin controlled breathing, or even get up and walk around. A warm bath or shower may help you relax. You will also benefit from coaching and support, which will help to increase relaxation.
At the end of the active first stage, contractions become very intense, about
2-3 minutes apart, and last from 60 to 90 seconds each.
You will need to concentrate on your breathing and will benefit
from a lot of coaching. During this phase, you may
experience the following signs:
- Hot and cold flashes
- Sensitivity to the environment
- Nausea or vomiting
- Leg cramps
- The urge to push
Second Stage of Labor
The second stage of labor starts when your cervix is fully
dilated. Contractions will be very strong and
painful, will last about 60 seconds, and will come at intervals of
about 2-3 minutes. You will have an intense urge to push.
This stage can last anywhere from a few minutes to up to 18 hours (average 8) for a first-time mother and shorter if have delivered before. You may
feel a stretching or burning sensation as the baby's head is pushed
out of your vagina. At the end of the second stage of labor, after
your baby is born, you will feel greatly relieved and excited.
Third Stage of Labor
The third stage of labor directly follows delivery of your baby and ends with the delivery of the placenta, usually within 30 minutes of the birth. During this stage, your uterus will contract and expel the placenta and membranes that have surrounded the fetus in your uterus. You will feel mild contractions that are very different from labor contractions. During these contractions, you may be encouraged to push. You also may be given intravenous oxytocin to assist uterine contractions.
After the placenta is delivered, you may need some sutures placed to close any tears that occurred during delivery. You will also be closely monitored for complications, such as bleeding and infection.