Labor and Delivery Tidbits: What to Expect

A brief overview of the standard sequence of events.

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The question of what happens during labor and delivery is one of the biggest, and often scariest, uncertainties of pregnancy. Everyone knows a few basic facts: there will be pain and there will be a baby. Until going through it, you don’t necessarily know how much pain to expect or what the entire experience will be like. For many women, the anticipation and slight fear of the delivery is worse than delivery really is.

The best thing a woman can do is to stay informed and educated about the labor and delivery process. Here is just a brief overview of some of the things you can expect during your labor and delivery:

The first stage of labor is typically the longest, lasting anywhere from eight hours to several days. However, the majority of this time is known as “early labor,” which is not always particularly uncomfortable or painful—it is simply your body getting ready for what it will need to do.

It is often difficult to determine exactly when early labor begins because the body, throughout the course of your pregnancy, has slowly intensified and progressed. As things continue to progress, though, a pattern will likely emerge and the contractions will likely increase in intensity. Your water may or may not break on its own. A very small percentage of women actually experience the fast release of amniotic fluid; instead, it may be just a small trickle at first, or it may not break at all until attended to by a medical professional.

If you plan to have your baby in a hospital or birthing center, active labor is commonly the time you will be admitted. Once you arrive and complete your admission paperwork, you will likely be taken to a triage room. A nurse will hook you up to a monitor to track the baby’s heartbeat. You will also likely have a cervical check to see how far you have dilated.

From there, you will eventually be checked into your birthing room. Here, there are a number of variables to consider—be sure to know ahead of time which amenities your local hospitals offer. Some possibilities include a jacuzzi tub, birthing ball, rocking chair, squatting bar, and adjustable bed. They are there to help you be as comfortable as possible during your labor, and offer flexibility of positioning.

This flexibility may be especially important during transition—the phase between stage one and stage two of labor. This period lasts only about half an hour on average, but it is often the most intense, as your body is gearing up to start birthing your baby. During transition, contractions seem to come one on top of the next, and it is likely to become nearly impossible to focus on anything besides getting through each one. Your cervix is dilating the remainder of the way to 10 centimeters, at which time, stage two—pushing—can begin.

Many women just know when it is time to push; they feel the urge to push, and it is an unmistakable feeling. From this point forward, each contraction is used to help push out the baby. The most painful part of this tends to be when the baby is crowning—when his or her head is passing through the birth canal and out into the world. Pushing can take as short a time as 30 minutes or less, or it can take hours. It tends to be faster for women who have had previous vaginal births.

After the baby is delivered, the placenta also follows. This is the third, and easiest, phase of labor. Often it occurs as the baby is being cleaned and tests are being administered. Many women forget about this stage entirely because they are so excited and exhausted from the previous stages of labor. Once the placenta is delivered, you will be cleaned and begin to recuperation process.

While the above is the common flow of events, it doesn’t always progress the same for everyone. Each woman is different and will react in a unique way. All in all, just listen to your body. It will almost always let you know what exactly to do; it’s natural.