15 Things To Expect From Each Stage Of Labor

Labor. This is it! That last step before her life and her partner’s life is changed forever. This little person is going to alter everything from what time she eats, sleeps, showers, and pretty much does anything else until baby has matured into an adult. And even then, well, they’ll always be children to their parents, right. Parents of older children will tell us this.

During the labor stage though, things begin very slowly. Mom-to-be may think to herself, when will this be over and the baby be out?! Just as she will think that, mark my words, the pace of labor will pick up, and up, and up, no matter whether she goes into labor naturally or has to be induced. Many women have experienced the pace going very fast either way. One loses track of time. She is climbing the biggest mountain of her life - breathing, focusing on getting through the next contraction, and continuing the climb until she comes face to face with the little life that will change her life and her partner’s life forever.

Yes, there will be pain, tension, exhileration, sweating, joy, swearing, fear, and strength. Her partner, doula or birth coach will be there to guide her and her body through the various stages of labor. They will be there to support her through to the end when she will meet her little bundle of joy for the first time. Usually, all will go well and Mom and baby will be healthy and relish in meeting one another. If there are issues, along the way the woman’s medical team along with her partner, will be there to cheer her on, support her and let her know what is happening next. What are those stages and what are some of the signs that she is in stage 1, 2, or 3? Here are 15 things to expect from each stage of labor:

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15 First: Cervix Gradually Dilates To 3 cm

One of the first things that happens when a woman is in early labor are contractions. Once she is able to rule out that they are not Braxton Hicks contractions, she can time and see how close and intense they are. This will help her decide when it is time to go to the hospital. At this stage, her cervix will not dilate beyond 3 cm. This part of labor usually happens at home. It’s important that she conserves her energy. This is the first step in the long climb of labor she will be undertaking. Good things to do at this point would be keeping track of her contractions, while drinking lots of water and snacking with light snacks. If she goes into labor in the evening, she should definitely try to sleep. She’ll need her energy! If she can’t sleep, this is when doing light housework, such as packing lunches or cleaning out her closet, are a good idea to keep her mind and body occupied.

14 Second: Maybe Water Will Break

Carrying on from above, it is important the woman needs to monitor the length of time since her water broke, as well as the color and odor of the fluid. If the smell is off and if the color is greenish, she needs to go into the hospital or birth center and alert the medical team immediately about this development. Though it is more common that waters break in Active Labor, it does sometimes happen in the early stages. That is ok, as long as she is on her way into the facility where she is most comfortable or that her team is coming to her home if it will be a home birth. If she sees any bleeding as well, it is important to tell her team. This could indicate damage to the placenta like placenta previa, or some other condition that is quite serious. They will know what to do. Regardless, doing the breathing exercises she learned in her birthing classes as well as staying calm, will help her progress to the next stage of labor.

13 Third: Things Go Quiet

A partner may be extra worried if they see their loved one not talking too much in this third stage of labor. They may think the worst, that the pain is so bad that something is wrong with baby. That is not the case. It is normal that at this stage as the woman is trying to manage the increasing pain of the contractions and increasing labor, that she will be focusing so much on that that she will stop talking. This is good as she is balancing her energy where it needs to be. If at any time, she has trouble breathing or experiences any other kind of discomfort other than labor, it is important to inform her health care providers if they are not already aware. Chances are though, all she would need is her partner’s love and attention to help her through labor by offering love, support, back massages and anything else to ease the pain of labor.

12 First: Wait It Out At Home

She is encouraged to stay home as long as possible where she will be able to rest at her convenience and keep calm in a familiar environment. She still has a while to go before actual labor intensifies. This stage usually lasts 8-12 hours on average. As long as her water does not break or she is not bleeding, it is better for her to stay home. This will usually result in her having an easier and shorter birth as she is relaxed and in her natural environment. Surprisingly enough, baby will sense this too, and it may mean an easier entry for baby into the world as well. Now if a woman has to go into the hospital due to a medical emergency or a problem in labor, she need not feel guilty. All birth experiences are unique to each mother and baby. She needs to do the best she can for the safety of her baby.

11 Second: Pain Intensifies

This next stage of contractions in the second or active stage is when the big show happens, or as they say, when the real work begins! Her cervix will dilate from 6 -10 cm as her contractions become closer together, more regular and stronger. She may feel cramping and nauseous, and may feel pressure increasing in her back. As her labor intensifies and her pain intensifies, it is normal to feel tired and discouraged. If it is too difficult for her to manage the pain, there is no shame in asking for medication or anesthesia if it will help. Her health care team and her partner will be there to support her as only she knows what her body needs to feel relief and what is the best choice for her and her baby. As the labor intensifies, her cervix will dilate to one centimeter per hour. Using her breathing and relaxation techniques will help her move forward confidently to the next stage of labor.

10 Third: Adjustment Phase

The woman seems upset as the pain of the contractions has most likely increased. This is due to her entering the last stage of labor: the one where she will be delivering her baby. She is understandably distracted, stressed, as her body is poised for one of the biggest moments of her life. She also may be pushing away her partner, as she may be feeling angry and scared, and starts yelling, maybe even cursing. They cannot take it personally. It is normal to be feeling a whole range of emotions as she deals with the physical and psychological toll that labor takes on a woman. As long as they are doing whatever they can to help ease her physical discomfort, that will go a long way in helping her. All she needs at this moment is knowing she is not alone if she needs physical help. And if she wants to be physically alone, not touching or staying near her. Always stay nearby just in case she changes her mind or needs physical help of any kind.

9 First: Contractions Kick In

How she knows things are moving along in the initial stage, is that she will feel her contractions gradually increasing over the course of several hours. She will also know she is in early labor by lower back pain and abdominal cramps that feel like mild menstrual cramps. This sign will let her know that her body is slowly progressing towards stage 2 of labor. She will feel the timing and intensity of contractions increase, but it is still important she stay home for the moment. As long as her water has not broken and the contractions are still far apart, there is no danger of baby being born without her support team nearby. She needs to monitor the spacing between contractions, as well as how she is feeling. If in doubt, she can call her birth center or the hospital and ask them what they think and whether she needs to come in or not yet.

8 Second: Contractions Last 45-60 Seconds

As the contractions get shorter, at 45-60 seconds, they also get more intense and closer together. The best advice is for a woman to try and rest 3-5 minutes in between. She could have her partner massaging her back, walking hand in hand slowly down the hall, or pushing against a wall. However she feels most comfortable regulating this part of the labor is what she needs to be doing. She could also be sitting and gently pressing herself down on an exercise ball, meanwhile doing all her relaxation breathing and other techniques she learned to stay calm and handle the pain of increasing labor. The important thing she needs to remember is to do what makes her regulate her pain most comfortably. Her support team will be there to help her every step of the way. They will offer advice, suggestions and she could pick and choose what she feels is best.

7 Third: Needs Multiply

Many women may not say it, and let’s face it, it’s kind of hard to ask them in the midst of a painful contraction, but they appreciate having their partners there for emotional support and distraction from the pain and intensity of labor. They may want their partners to talk to them about other subjects, sing to them. They may want to hear jokes. Or they may want their partners to listen to them talk between contractions. They may also need the emotional support of having their partners nearby talking to them, telling them jokes or just standing quietly by letting them talk or being there silently supporting them. It’s not easy as a partner to watch a woman handling the intensity of labor and birth, but the partner needs to know that their role is also crucial in getting the woman through the last stage of this incredible experience.

6 First: Blood-Tinged Mucus

Blood-tinged mucus sometimes happens in early labor. It is due to the cervix contracting. A woman does not always see the blood-tinged mucus or bloody show. It is ok if she does not. As long as the rest of the labor is progressing with gradual increasing contractions and she is feeling fine, all is going according to plan. If she does see bleeding briefly, there is no need to worry. However, is there is a lot of bleeding or pain, she needs to call her medical care practitioner immediately. This could signal a serious medical issue for baby or for her. Many women are so distracted by the contractions and other pains that happen with labor. As long as she is not going beyond the usual sweating, nausea, and dizziness that is common, she could take it one step at a time in a normal rythym. Otherwise, she will need immediate medical attention to rule out anything really serious.

5 Second: Feeling Sick

When a woman is at first feeling queasy and dizzy, she may know she is in the beginning stages of labor, the first stage, but may not make the connection that she is in fact in the second stage of labor. Her stomach may be feeling queasy and she may feel nauseous as if she had overeaten. She may put this down to indigestion, especially if this is a first pregnancy and baby. However, it is very common that she would be in the second stage of labor with not too much more time to go until baby and mother meet face to face! The best thing she could do is make sure she is in the proper setting, get her support people around her, and get ready to breathe, focus and push her way to meeting the newest member of the family! She may have to use different methods to handle the pain, but she needs to do what is best for her and her baby.

4 Third: Free Massages

Her partner could also do something as amazing and simple as massaging her back, which is usually very sore from the intense contractions and labor that is ensuing. There is nothing like a back massage when one is not in labor, but a lot of women who are intensely in labor really love and benefit from any soft pressure on their lower back. It is the loving touch in the massage that does as much as the physical pressure to help a woman through the stress and discomfort of labor. She also can sense the love of her partner as he lovingly cares for her by paying special attention to her in her time of need. Even if he cannot understand the pain of labor, he is right there beside her commiserating and helping her feel less alone, a part of the process, as well as reminding her of her sacrifice to bring their child into the world safely and lovingly. There is no better gift.

3 First: Rupture Of Amniotic Fluids

When there is rupture of the amniotic fluids or her waters break as many of us know it as, then she automatically moves into Stage 2: Active Labor. After her waters break, she will obviously feel the whooshing sensation of wetness and then wet her pants. The smell though will alert her to the fact that she did not have a regular bathroom accident. The odor will smell different, almost salty, and her contractions will get stronger. She also may not have had any contractions and had her water break first. Regardless, this signals her initiation to Stage 2. Unless she is already planning to give birth at home, she needs to get herself to the hospital or birth center with her partner. If she is giving birth at home, she should call her midwife and doula if she has one, and let them know that things have moved into the second stage.

2 Second: Getting To The Hospital

Man holding pregnant woman's hand, sitting in car

At this stage, it is definitely necessary to go to the hospital or birth center. The woman will be close to delivering her baby, and she will need to be in a setting where she could have all the support and anything extra that she may need to be comfortable while she is bringing another life into the world. Here her support people will be able to give her all she needs to stay calm, and as pain free as possible. She should only go to the hospital or birth center when her water breaks or any other type of bleeding or other health development occurs that is out of the ordinary. If in doubt, a woman needs to always check with her health care provider to see what her next course of action needs to be. They will usually encourage her to come in and then many options will be offered to help her manage her pain.

1 Third: All Around Weird Sensations In The Body

When a woman experiences diarrhea and a sense of warmth in the abdomen, she may not associate this with stage 3 labor, but usually this is happening with all of the other weird body sensations that are happening as her body is in active labor. Often weird things happen in her body, and all she could do is go with the flow. These are things she would have been so worried about happening prior to pregnancy and labor, but now she just wants to pop that baby out and go home. The good thing about this is that she will go through this stage, put a smile on her face as best as she can, and move to the next stage which is relinquishing all control, going with baby’s pace, and moving towards childbirth in the best way she can. If she has her support people around her, so much the better.

So there they are: 15 things to expect from each stage of labor. The more informed she is, the more relaxed she can be. Then she can anticipate what will be happening in her labor experience, and make the best decision to have a quick, safe and as painless a labor as possible.

Sources: American Pregnancy, What To Expect, Belly Belly, Mayo Clinic

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