After enduring so much disrupted sleep and countless pregnancy symptoms, you’ve finally made it to that one thing you may have been dreading or looking forward to: going into labor. The actual beginning of labor cannot be predicted, but it is helpful to know its symptoms, stages, and basically, how to get through it.
If you’re pregnant for the first time, a few weeks before you go into labor, you’ll feel a certain lightening in which your pelvis somehow descends and pressure decreases right below your ribcage. This is also referred to as the baby “drop.”
There will also be an increase in Braxton Hicks contractions (contractions that do not happen frequently nor on a regular basis and only mild cramping is felt). Make sure that these contractions don’t happen at a regular and closer interval; otherwise, they are considered false labor.
In preparation for giving birth, your cervix begins to soften and become thinner. In addition, you may have what is called a “bloody show,” which comes out as vaginal discharge that consists of mucous with a hint of pink, brown, or red blood.
One of the most well-known labor symptoms is when your water breaks, meaning the amniotic fluid surrounding your baby begins to flow through your vagina. You should call your doctor or midwife immediately when this happens.
Legitimate labor may be difficult to distinguish from false labor, but as a general rule, once your contractions have closer intervals and increased strength and length, then it’s almost a sure sign that labor has begun.
Stages of Labor
There are three labor stages: dilation, fetal expulsion, and placenta delivery.
The dilation stage has two phases: early labor and active labor. During the early labor phase, contractions happen every five minutes and lasts from 40-60 seconds each. Your cervix begins to efface, and this phase ends when the cervix is around 4cm dilated. Early labor lasts from 6-12 hours, depending on your cervix’s ripeness and the frequency and strength of your contractions. On the other hand, active labor ends when your cervix already has an opening wide enough for the baby’s head to go through.
Once your cervix becomes fully dilated, the fetal expulsion stage begins. The baby’s head is completely engaged in your pelvis. You will then have this urge to push, similar to the feeling you get when you need to expel waste. As you continue pushing, the baby goes through your pubic arch, and out of the vaginal opening, signalling the end of this second labor stage. This stage may end in a few minutes or several hours depending on the baby’s size, presence of infection, and other factors.
The final stage is the delivery of the placenta. A few minutes after your baby comes out, your uterus starts to contract again to expel the placenta. Pushing with little effort will help, and this lasts for around 10-30 minutes. The umbilical cord is also clamped and cut during this stage.
What to do when in labor:
It pays to be ready for anything, so having a pre-packed bag with a few clothes, blankets, diapers, and other toiletries is advisable since you’ll most likely be in a hurry to go to the hospital. Make sure that the contact information of your doctor or midwife is readily accessible, as they may relay instructions over the phone on your way to the hospital or on their way to your home. Basically, it is important to establish guidelines beforehand with your practitioner, so you know what to do when the time comes. In addition, aside from giving you medical advice and check-ups, they will also guide you through the labor process, particularly in the second stage when pushing is needed.
The following are some clear cut scenarios wherein medical advice or attention is urgently needed:
- Your water breaks, or if you think you’re losing amniotic fluid. When the fluid is brown, green, or yellow, meconium (the baby’s first stool) is present, and may be an indication of stress on the fetus.
- There is a noticeable decrease in the baby’s activity.
- You experience vaginal bleeding that’s not a bloody show, continuous and intense abdominal pain, or fever.
- You have extremely persistent headaches, unusual swelling, and other non-ordinary symptoms.
Even if you can’t really be given an exact date of when your labor will start, it is essential to be prepared for any kind of labor scenario. After all, no matter how quick or slow your labor will be, what matters is that your baby will be delivered safely and without any complications.