This is it. The moment has arrived. Whether it is that first contraction she feels or that first gush of water, life, as she knows it, is now about to change forever. Not only will her life physically never be the same again, (heck it hadn’t been the same for the past nine months, so she is used to that), but now psychologically she is about to enter into the most intensely painful thing she will ever embark upon: labor. Whether she decides to go completely drug-free, opt for some drugs, or do the entire labor with drugs, it is her choice. It is a very personal thing and she will handle things the best way she knows how.
The body too will miraculously adjust to the amazing experience of a little human being making its way out of a very narrow opening. Labor is not for the faint of heart, but women are tough and they can do anything, right? This is why it is so incredible to see a woman in labor and watch how her experience can differ very much from another woman’s. On that note, here are 14 amazing things the body does while in labor:
Apparently many women go into labor in the dark and there is a good reason for it. It so happens that oxytocin, the chemical that helps with Mom/Baby bonding starts the whole ball going with contractions, and this happens more easily in the dark. Yes, it’s true. That is why most women go into labor in the evening hours. It is more naturally conducive to their bodies to jumpstart the whole birth process. So try not to stay up too late watching a movie when labor could begin. Yep. I know this one from personal experience. It only makes labor longer and more tiring. But this is a cool fact to learn, right? Knowing this, it’s a good idea that Moms get to bed earlier in those few weeks when they are due just in case it’s the day junior decides that it's time come into the world.
The mucus plug. The words sound gross, but this is truly an exciting sign. It means baby is ready to make its way down from the warmth and safety of the womb out into the world. The mucus plug is basically what has been keeping baby secured in utero. It has been sealing off the cervix. And by the way, there isn’t really a plug. It’s just a lot of mucous that is getting discharged from the vagina so it appears as if a plug has been released. It’s kind of like blowing your nose when you have a really bad cold and feel like you can finally breathe again. This time, of course, mom gets to meet her little bundle of joy. Depending on the frequency of contractions, she’ll know whether she needs to go into the hospital or not, or call her midwife. If in any doubt, she only has to call if she has any concerns.
A woman's cervix dilates three times wider than that of an ape's. Hearing this statistic sounds a little scary, but it is actually true. Human women suffer more in labor than any other species, but we all are built for it. We are strong and able to handle it. Another cool thing about the cervix is that when it is completely dilated, it vanishes. Yes, that’s right! It completely disappears. No other body part ever does this in any other capacity. It is also incredible how the cervix bounces back to its original shape after labor. It is so small, yet it is able to bend to let a human child out and then go back to its old shape. So, so cool. The thing about the pain of childbirth though, is that yes it is hard for us ladies, but it is only during the last few centimeters of dilation called active labor, where a woman will experience the most pain.
Barring any pregnancy complications or unforeseen events, most women are able to get through the last leg of contractions and labor without an epidural. Usually, if everything has been going smoothly she will be finding ways to handle the pain and contractions, and will not be too bothered by it. There may not even be time for the epidural. She would have been pushing naturally knowing her limits, and then all of a sudden experiencing the sensation of having been frozen and not knowing where to stop pushing. It’s also at the moment when she wants to give up due to the pain where she will see she is strongest. There is a transition phase that lasts only fifteen minutes to an hour, but it can feel like a lifetime. It’s important she remembers to push through that wall of pain. She will make it through alright.
Labor is truly amazing as it helps women eventually deliver their baby and the rest of the stuff that housed baby. The placenta is also delivered right after baby. Usually Mom doesn’t even notice this part as she is so busy admiring her little bundle of joy when the placenta comes out. Sometime she is given a dose of Picotin (oxytocin) to speed up the birth process, other times if she is able to start breastfeeding she will naturally create the oxytocin that will push it out. Some women want to see the placenta. It is pretty cool to see what housed one’s baby for all those months, but others decline, or in the case of women who have a c-section, well, they are pretty much out of it so won’t notice that it's being removed. Still, when one thinks about it, the whole process is really pretty cool.
And then there is the blood. Sorry ladies. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but well, when another whole human person comes out of you, bleeding will happen. Many women are surprised by it, but it is perfectly normal to continue to bleed for up to 4-6 weeks. It is the woman’s body getting rid of the lining of her uterus. She’ll need to have lots of heavy flow pads ready for those first few days after birth. After the 4-6 week period the flow should lighten. If it does not or she has any concerns, the woman should definitively call her doctor right away. It is extra important that she take good care of herself during this exhausting time when she will think her needs should be taking second fiddle to her child’s. It is equally important that she take as good care of herself as of her child.
Wow! That time range sounds incredibly scary and long, and it is. The thing is though, that a woman will be able to withstand a long labor. Her body is equipped for it, and particularly if it is her first pregnancy, she will need to allow time for her body to go through this process. As her body adjusts to the intricacies of pushing baby out, she will also need to mentally prepare herself for the journey ahead by staying focused and calm, breathing through the next contraction, knowing that it will bring her that much closer to meeting her future little baby. No matter what, she knows that she has options for pain relief, and all women know that it is not how babies come into the world that matter, but how much love they experience afterwards that make the most difference.
Contractions are not fun for Mom-to-be or her baby, but then again it is the contractions that help push baby further out of the womb and into the world where they will meet their parents and others who will love them to pieces. This step is as necessary as all the other steps in labor and the woman needs to be ready to handle all the discomfort to give birth. Each contraction manoeuvers baby closer to the exit of the birth canal where she will eventually come face to face with her little bundle of joy. It is challenging, but as she is in poised in the moment, she will pace herself and do her best to make sure baby is out in the world at the earliest and safest time.
Many women who are in the early stages of labor are not only able to walk around comfortably and go about their daily business, but are encouraged to do so. They are not in any real pain yet and worrying about what is coming will not do anyone any good. She will most likely get through it quickly anyway and if most of the process happens at home she will be just fine when it is time to deliver. If there are any complications or problems with pain or anything else, she should call her medical care practitioner and ask them if it is advisable that she come in. She releases a hormone called relaxin, which helps to loosen her muscles and helps her body stretch for labor. This hormone is released in the second trimester and helps the pelvic muscles release and relax which prepare the body for labor.
When a woman is in labor something cool happens. Despite the pain and difficulty, she is able to focus on staying in the moment and concentrating on getting through the labor and delivery. She develops what is called “hyper focus”, which is the ability to zoom in on what is happening in her body at that time, and ignore outside distractions-sights, sounds, and tastes. She will not even feel hungry if she has not eaten in hours due to her body’s ability to zone in on the contractions and getting through labor. This is a really useful tool in having as safe a labor as possible and as quick and painless a pregnancy as possible. She will ride the contractions and handle the pain, most of the time without even any medication.
And then there is the whole birth thing which, no matter how long and painful, makes a woman say after she views her little bundle of joy, “I could do that again in a heartbeat.” Why? Well, because it is nature’s way of giving Moms some minor amnesia of some of the more uncomfortable parts of pregnancy and labor so she can see the amazing result of all nature’s and her and her partner’s work: a beautiful new baby healthy, alive and ready to be loved. This was probably part of natural selection and evolution’s way of assuring that the human race would continue reproducing its members. The cuteness factor of that baby would be enough to get women to get pregnant again and again and handle what would happen next.
Contractions are not fun, but at least in general when they start occurring they naturally begin to build up over time. It’s not like a woman gets a whopper of a contraction that she can hardly breathe and then the lighter ones. They start off slowly with big pauses in between. In other words she gets one contraction, then gets a big pause, then another one. Slowly over time the intensity builds up until there are shorter times before one contraction finishes and another one begins. This all happens over a course of many hours. Now, in the case of having to have the contractions artificially induced or helped along, the process is sped up considerably. This means faster contractions with fewer breaks in between. This kind of labor will be harder on a woman which is why pain medication may be recommended early on.
And this is so true. Most women have a “birth plan”, that is, a plan where they hope to have a certain birth experience while bringing their little ones into the world. It could be a birth plan that includes a home birth, a vaginal birth in a hospital or a scheduled c-section. Regardless though, most women will agree to change birth plan directions in a second if it means that their baby will be born healthy, quickly and happy. Some will be disappointed if their birth plan does not go according to how they want it to go, but they will do it. Never before have most women been able to change directions so quickly in how they thought of something, but when it comes to their child, any miracle is possible.
Finally, the last reason why labor is amazing is simply because, well, it is the reason why and how baby is safely brought into the world. Each contraction, each push, brings our little one closer to being born healthy, happy and strong. It may be an incredibly short and painless labor. It may be a somewhat longer and painful labor. Or, it may be a very long labor with an emergency c-section planned or unplanned. No matter. In all scenarios, however, the woman will bring forth life, a healthy and thriving baby (or sometimes babies), which will make the world a better place simply for having been born into it. They all have something special to offer, and their parents and other loved ones around them will help to bring it forth into the world. It is an exciting time for sure.