Sometimes ignorance can be bliss, but when it comes to labour and birth it’s good to know about the different stages so that you can be prepared for what lies ahead. Here’s how you’ll typically feel during each phase.
The pre-labour stage
You wake in the night with contractions every 10 to 20 minutes and you feel excited – this is it! You know it still may be a while, so you try to go back to sleep but the contractions won’t stop. By morning you are tired but hopeful something is happening. The contractions don’t get closer or stronger, they’re just enough to prevent good sleep. You go to the hospital and your midwife examines you and says you are 1cm dilated. You just want to hit her and feel like crying. This is pre-labour.
Don’t panic, pre-labour is a “warm up” and once labour does kick in you will progress well, so pack up your things and go home to wait for the first stage of labour to begin.
First stage: Dilating from 1cm to 10cm and getting to hospital
Once the contractions are strong, coming every 3 to 5 minutes and lasting for about a minute, it is likely you are in the first stage of labour and your cervix has started to open. This is great. Each contraction brings you closer to meeting your baby and it is probably time to make the trip to hospital. If you are unsure, ring your midwife or the hospital and they will guide you as to when to come in. It is good to stay at home for as long as you can, because going to the hospital is not going to make the baby come any faster. The best thing you can do during the first stage of labour is relax and let the contractions do their work to open your cervix to 10cm. Use breathing, relaxation, heat packs and water to help you get through this stage.
Second stage: The big push and meeting your baby
Women often feel like they want to do a big poo when they get to the second stage of labour. When the midwife checks and says you are fully dilated (your cervix has opened to 10cm) it’s time to push. Follow your body’s instinct and as the pushing feeling becomes stronger you’ll find yourself wanting to use your other muscles to help get the baby out. Just remember this stage can take up to two hours, so don’t be impatient and just keep at it.
Third stage: Cuddles and delivering the placenta
You have a baby in your arms and you are counting fingers and toes, but your work is not done – there’s still the placenta to come. Breastfeeding your baby will encourage more contractions and the midwife will give you an injection to help get the placenta out. You may have to push again but don’t worry, the placenta is smaller and softer than the baby’s head. The placenta is usually out within 30 minutes of the baby being delivered.
There is a fourth stage too
The fourth stage is the resting stage. This is the time when you and baby are snuggled up in bed breastfeeding and relaxing. This is the time for having a cup of tea and just marvelling at the miracle of birth. Bathe in the glow!