Want to know what to expect when you go into labor? Buckle your seat belts for the three-phase breakdown.
First Stage: The first stage of labor begins with contractions and progresses until your cervix is fully dilated.
- Early Labor: Your cervix gradually thins out — known as effacing — and opens. Contractions during this phase can be hard to distinguish from Braxton-Hicks, or “practice” contractions; you’ll know soon enough, however, if it’s the real thing. If you feel like moving around, taking a walk can be a nice distraction (and, some women say, method for moving labor along). If it’s the middle of the night and you feel like you can sleep between contractions, let your body rest for the hard work ahead.
- Active Labor (Transition): This is what birth professionals refer to as “transition;” contractions become longer, stronger and progressively closer together, and your cervix opens — or dilates — at a faster rate, preparing for your baby to pass through it. The rule of thumb is to call your midwife or doctor when contractions become regular and painful — it’ll be difficult to talk when they’re happening — and occur at a rate of five minutes apart. This is a good time to try out any pain-management techniques, such as breathing exercises, you may have learned leading up to labor.
- Transition is the last phase of active labor; you may scream, vomit, moan — it’s different for everyone. Do whatever you feel inclined to and ride the waves; your body knows what it’s doing, and it’s producing hormones to help you with the process.
Second Stage (Pushing): The second stage of labor begins when your cervix is fully dilated, and concludes with your baby’s delivery. Some women find that pushing offers some relief during contractions. Use your moments between contractions to breathe; and try to stay directly in the present moment, rather than thinking ahead to the next contraction. The hardest part of the pushing stage is that final contraction–and final push–when your baby emerges. But as soon as it’s over, your baby will have arrived!
Third Stage: The third stage begins when your baby is born and ends when you deliver your placenta. Your uterus will resume contractions a few minutes after your baby is born, and your doctor or midwife will ask you to push a few times again in order to delivery the placenta. Don’t worry — this part is nothing compared to what you’ve already done, and you’ll hardly notice or care; your attention will be entirely focused on your beautiful new baby. Congratulations, mama –you did it!