As you enter your 37th week of pregnancy, you’re now classed as “full-term” and finally ready to welcome your baby into the world. No wonder then that you’re focused on what to expect in the delivery room.
While every birth is unique, medical providers talk about labour in four stages, with the first and longest stage covering three different phases. Let’s take a look at what happens as you go through this life-changing process.
Four stages of labour:
First stage – this is the longest stage with three phases — early labour, active labour, and the transition phase. It begins when contractions start and continues until you are fully dilated (10cm).
Second stage of labour – this is when your baby moves through the birth canal and enters the world.
Third stage of labour – delivery of the placenta.
Fourth stage of labour – the first couple of hours after delivery are a time of recovery.
First stage of labour (3 phases)
The early labour phase is when symptoms start until the cervix is dilated to 3 cm. Contractions are the most common symptoms. Some women experience backache, as well as the appearance of the mucus plug. At this point, the best thing you can do is to try and relax at home, but if your waters break you should call the hospital. Early labour can last around 12 hours for your first pregnancy (usually shorter with subsequent deliveries). Active labour is from 3cm to 7cm dilated and can last three to five hours. Try to keep moving, changing positions, and doing relaxation exercises between contractions. During your earlier visits, ask the doctor’s advice about when to go to the hospital; usually, it is when the contractions are less than five minutes apart. The transition phase is from 7 cm to 10 cm dilation, and the hospital team will support you based on your birth plan.
Second stage of labour
The second stage begins with full dilation and ends with the birth of your baby; this can last a few minutes to a few hours. Your midwife will guide you when to push. Try taking a deep breath in and pushing slowly while holding your breath.
Third stage of labour
After the baby is born, the umbilical cord will be cut. More contractions will then expel the placenta 15 minutes to an hour after the birth. It is helpful to put the baby straight to the breast if possible, which helps release oxytocin to contract the womb. Once the placenta is delivered, you will be checked to ensure that the placenta and membranes are complete.
Fourth stage of labour
The fourth stage of labour is the first two to three hours after delivery, when the medical team will monitor you closely during recovery. They will keep a check on how your uterus has contracted, your pulse, body temperature, any bleeding, and tearing. You might feel tiredness, physical pain, intense emotions, shakiness, or euphoria. All of these emotions are normal.