The most dreaded and at the same time looked forward to part of pregnancy! So many parents-to-be worry about childbirth, so we’ve shared our readers experiences about childbirth with you alongside the medical stages of labour.
For more birth stories you can visit our real life birth stories page, including the famous Twitterbirth!
The stages of labour
Labour is divided into first, second and third stages…
The first stage of labour
This results in the neck of the womb – the cervix – dilating to a full ten centimetres and consists of early, active, and transitional phases. Many mums-to-be worry that they won’t know this is happening, but then after labour they realise it was very easy to recognise, and different to ‘practice’ contractions.
The early phase is sometimes called the ‘latent period’ or ‘pre labour.’
The uterus starts to contract or tighten regularly. The contractions gradually become more painful, (unlike your Braxton Hicks contractions which were irregular and didn’t hurt.) Each woman has her own rhythm and pace of labour. Some may not even be aware of the very early contractions and are several centimetres dilated before they realise they’re in labour.
As the cervix begins to open, its position in your pelvis changes, moving forwards. It softens and effaces which means that it gets thinner and springier.
What you can do?
You’ll probably be able to potter around the house, go for a walk, watch a video, take a warm bath, or have a nap. The important thing to remember heres is to try and relax as much as you can.
Have lots of snacks, unless you feel sick. Carbohydrate-rich foods are best – bread, potatoes, pasta, raisins. If you find the contractions are hard work, try using massage, relaxation techniques, a warm bath and experiment with positions that you find comfortable.
If you want to use a TENS machine, put it on during this early phase as it seems to work best when used from the very start of labour.
Our readers experiences…
*Mum1- I remember thinking for weeks before, this is it, then laughing to myself when it actually did start! I really knew it was the start when it did happen- there’s no confusing it with anything else!
I can only describe it as period pain- it wasnt bad, I even cleaned my house through it!’
*Mum2- I didn’t have this as I was taken into hospital to be induced nine days early due to my pre eclampsia
Midwives and doctors say you are in active labour when your cervix has dilated, or opened, to three to four centimetres.
Your contractions will be getting stronger and more frequent and they’re also getting longer. Eventually they may be coming as frequently as every three to four minutes and lasting 60 to 90 seconds – and feel very tense indeed.
What you can do?
The time to go to hospital or the birth centre is when you and your birth companion feel you would be more relaxed there than at home.
If you are having a home birth, phone your midwife when you need some reassurance. Contractions may start to feel as if they are coming one on top of another. Try to work with your body. What is it telling you to do? Would you be more comfortable in a different position? Do you need a drink or some food to give you energy? Would it help to go to the toilet? Do you need more information from your midwife to reassure you?
Breathing exercises and relaxation techniques really come into their own at this point, and your partner can help you remember how to use them.
Consider taking a warm shower or bath – warm water can really help ease the pain of labour. Or you may choose to use a birth pool. You hear stories of women who sink into a bath or pool when they’re five or six centimetres dilated, relax, and are fully dilated an hour later!
Sometimes, women reach a point in labour when the rate at which their cervix is dilating slows or even stops. Try a change of scenery; a walk down the hospital corridor may help. Moving around is great for progressing labour. If your waters haven’t broken yet, your midwife may suggest breaking them to see if this will speed labour up. Be aware though that you may find contractions tougher once the waters have gone.
If you find that the things you can do to help yourself aren’t making contractions manageable, you can choose to have pethidine, meptid or an epidural if you are in hospital. If you are having a homebirth you will only have gas and air available to you.
Our readers experiences…
Mum1- I went to bed during the active phase and fell asleep. I woke up at 4.30 am with it feeling a lot stronger, but not bad enough to worry yet. I read a little, and called my sister a bit later on. When I did call, she told me I needed to go to hospital as my contractions were 3 minutes apart! I woke my sleepy husband and we set off.’
Mum2- as before
During the transitional phase, the cervix dilates from eight to ten centimetres and contractions may last as long as one to one-and-a-half minutes and occur every two to three minutes. You might feel shaky, shivery and sick. (Or you might feel none of these things!) Many women report that this phase is so intense they feel as if they’re having an out-of-body experience.
What you can do?
Hang on to the thought that you are nearly there!
Make the most of the time in between contractions to rest and relax. During contractions, find the position that suits you best. Keep your breathing as rhythmical as possible (breathe in through your nose and blow out through a soft mouth), and if you want to shout, groan, and make a lot of noise – go for it!
Second stage of labour…
Once the cervix has dilated to ten centimetres, the work and excitement of the second stage begin. This is the stage of labour when your womb pushes your baby down the vagina (sometimes called the birth canal) into the world and, at long last, you meet him or her for the first time.
There’s often a lull at the end of the first stage when the contractions stop and you and your baby can rest for a while. When the contractions start again, you’ll feel the pressure of your baby’s head between your legs.
With each contraction and every push, your baby will move down through your pelvis a little, but at the end of the contraction, he’ll slip back up again! Don’t despair. As long as the baby keeps on moving on a little further each time, you’re doing fine.
When your baby’s head is far down in your pelvis and stretching the opening of the vagina, you’ll probably feel a hot, stinging sensation and your midwife will tell you that your baby’s head has “crowned”.
As your baby’s head begins to be born, she may ask you to stop pushing and gently pant. This helps make sure that your baby is born gently and slowly, and should reduce the risk of you tearing.
If you have had a baby before, the second stage may only take five or ten minutes. If this is your first baby, it may take several hours.
Our readers experiences…
Mum1- The pain really kicked in and became a little unbearable around 10am. I used a tens machine, and had gas and air. At one point I really wanted an epidural, but it was too late by that point and a few minutes later I was ready to push.
By 11.03am my beautiful daughter was born. She came out covered in miconium- really horrible, she had to go into the special baby care unit for a few days as she had swallowed some of it during labour. She was fine and it was just a precautionary measure.
Mum2- I was taken in to be induced and was put on a monitor straight away. I used the Tens machine, and a little gas and air and to be totally honest cant remember any pain at all! I had been in hospital for a long time and was given pethadine to help me sleep, which it did. I then woke up to be told I wa having a caesarian! The length of my childbirth from going in to be induced to seeing my baby was 2 days! My beautiful son was then born on new years eve in the morning!
What you can do?
Listen to your body and push when you get a strong urge. Try not to hold your breath when you’re pushing. Push for as long as you want to. Then push again. You may find that you push several times (not just once) with each contraction. Listen to your midwife, she will work with you to help your baby be delivered safely and to avoid tearing. Use gravity to help you by standing up, kneeling or squatting. If you are very tired and want to lie down, lie on your left hand side. This makes more room in your pelvis for your baby than sitting on the bed because you’re not pushing your coccyx (tail bone) forwards.
If you’ve had an epidural, listen to your midwife who will tell you when to push. She may suggest not pushing until she can actually see your baby’s head.
Your baby is born! Ask for your baby to be delivered onto your chest if you can, skin-to-skin contact is really important.
Third stage of labour
In the third stage, you deliver the placenta – the baby’s life-support system that has supplied your baby with nutrients, and taken waste products away, as it has grown inside you.
After the baby is born, contractions resume after a few minutes, but at a much lesser intensity. These contractions cause the placenta to peel away from the wall of the uterus and drop down into the bottom of your womb.
You will probably feel that you want to push. The placenta, with the membranes of the empty bag of waters attached, will pass down and out of your vagina. Your midwife will carefully examine the placenta and membranes to make sure that nothing has been left behind. She will also feel your tummy to check that your uterus is contracting hard in order to stop the bleeding from the place where the placenta was attached.
Delivering the placenta usually takes from five to 15 minutes, but it can take up to an hour. It depends on whether you have a managed or natural third stage. Most women are surprised at how much easier it is to deliver the placenta than to push the baby out. You may like to have a look at this organ that has supported your baby throughout the pregnancy. It’s actually really fascinating to see!
What you can do?
You may hardly be aware of the third stage, as your focus has probably shifted to your baby. Seeing and handling your baby, and offering him or her the breast will stimulate hormones that help the placenta to separate.
Now that the birth is over, you may feel shaky due to adrenaline and the adjustments your body immediately starts to make. Or you may simply be on a high, ready to pick up your baby and dance around the room!
Some women find it hard to pay attention to the baby if they have had a long labour, or if they’ve had pethidine. There’s nothing wrong with their maternal instincts; they’re simply exhausted. If this happens to you take your time, there’s no rush! After a rest you will be much more interested in getting to know your baby.
A lot of women are very hungry and ready for tea and toast, while others crack open the champagne, and want to telephone everyone and tell them the wonderful news.
Admire your new baby. Count the fingers and toes. Hold him or her close to your body, preferably skin to skin.
If you’re too tired, your partner can hold the baby against their chest. If you’re going to breastfeed, offer the breast as soon as possible – your midwife will help you. Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t seem very interested. Even if he’s only touching and nuzzling you, this will help you to get going with breastfeeding.
* We have named our lovely mums, Mum 1 and Mum 2 as they wanted to remain anonymous