7 Reasons Why Labour Can Be Shorter After the First Child

We’ve all seen the typical TV movie, in which a pregnant woman’s water breaks and she winds up giving birth in the back of a taxi cab en route to the hospital an hour later. Replace the charming doctor with a smooth-talking cabbie and your cheesy labour fairy tale is just about complete.

Somehow, there is no blood, there is no mess, everything runs as it should, and the baby shoots out like a cannonball. If only this was true. We’d certainly have a lot fewer medical emergencies to contend with.

In actual reality, first-time active labour can take up to eight hours. Now, I’m not referring to those first twinges of early labour, where contractions wax and wane. This really can take hours and hours. Active labour refers to those strong, frequent contractions that happen every three to four minutes. This is typical of a woman having her first child.

For women having subsequent children, labor can be much faster (although maybe not quite as fast as the taxi cab scenario). We’ve compiled some reasons as to why labour tends to be quicker once you’ve given birth before. You may be surprised at what you discover.

7  Your Body Has Done This Before

Have you ever met those women who are six months pregnant and barely look like it? Then you meet expectant moms who are so visibly pregnant at two months along, you could swear the doctor mixed up the due date.

During subsequent pregnancies, you may find yourself showing a little faster. This is because, after your first baby, your uterus will not shrink down all the way back to its previous size. This gives it a head start in growing for your next pregnancy.

This is not foreign territory for your uterus. Because your body has had practice with this before and knows what to do, delivery the second time can be quicker. I bet you didn’t realize you’re carrying around a veteran uterus, did you?

6 The Position of Your Baby Matters

The position of your baby at delivery is also crucial as to how long the labour will last. Will your next labour be as nice and “easy” as your favourite aunt promised it would be?

In order to best achieve an easier labour, an anterior fetal position is best. This is when the baby is in a head-down position, with the back of his head slightly towards the front of your tummy. The baby fits snugly into the curve of your pelvis. A position like this will make labour easier. During the pushing stage, the baby moves through your pelvis at an angle, so the smallest area of his head comes first.

What You Don’t Want to Happen

Whether a baby is in the posterior position or not matters a great deal. A posterior position means that the back of your baby’s skull is in the back (or posterior) of your pelvis. In fact, studies show that 1 out of every 10 babies will be in a back-to-back or posterior position by delivery. It can make it more difficult for you if your baby’s chin is pushed up rather than tucked in.

The shape of your pelvis makes all the difference, too. You may have a pelvis that is narrow, wide-shaped, or oval and not round-shaped. A round-shaped pelvis makes birthing easier for obvious reasons. The good news is that some posterior babies can be rotated back during labour with the right support.

5 Your Contractions Are Stronger

As labour progresses, contractions naturally get stronger and more aggressive. Labour happens in three stages, but what happens in the first and second stages set the pace for the nature of your delivery. Will it be a long, bumpy road or smooth sailing?

The First Stage

During this process, the cervix begins to experience physical changes. It becomes softer and prepares to open, which is referred to as “ripening.” You may not notice this opening at first, but as the cervix becomes more dilated, the contractions will pick up in speed and intensity in preparation for the second stage of labour.

The Second Stage

This is the active labour stage, where contractions are harder and more intense. The cervix is about 3 cm to 4 cm dilated. With subsequent babies, women can expect the second stage of labour to be quicker simply because the cervix is more stretched.

Contractions can come and go as often as every three to four minutes, lasting as long as 60 to 90 seconds. Sometimes, they wax and wane, or come in double waves. For a mom who has birthed one or more babies before, the entire labour (from that first early contraction to delivery) can be as short as six hours. 

4  Your Birth Plan May Be More Detailed

You may not have written a birth plan for your first child, and that’s alright. It’s hard to know what you want when giving birth is such a foreign concept. Now that you know what went smoothly (and possibly not so smoothly), you can better prepare for your second experience. Above it, a birth plan can help you feel in more control over the situation.

Create a wish list

Start jotting down notes of things you want to happen and discuss them with your doctor prior to getting into the operating room. It may help to speed up the labour process.

Did rolling on an exercise ball help to open up the pelvis and control the pain? Was the episiotomy you had the first time around not such a good idea, and did it take too long to heal? Perhaps the epidural you took made you too numb, and it made pushing difficult. Losing the ability to push with enough force to squeeze a baby out can definitely affect the length of your labour.

3 Being Comfortable With Your Medical Team

Having a stellar medical team – your own personal “cheerleaders” – can make a big difference in your delivery. Encouragement will make you want to push harder and perform at your best. Disempowering thoughts such as “I can’t do this,” or “this is taking too long” may prevent you from trying and slow down the process.

Also, some alone time with your partner may also help. A cuddle, a massage, and a calming word may be just the ticket to help release some natural oxytocin – the very hormone that strengthens your contractions.

2 Consider Your Age

Women are having children later than they used to. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the average woman was under the age of 25 when she gave birth. That number has soared to age 30 or older today. We’re getting married later, and many of us are considered equal contributors to the household as a result of being active members of the workforce. But having a baby later in life could put you at some risks during subsequent deliveries.

  • Pregnant moms older than 40 are three times more likely to develop gestational diabetes and Placenta Previa than younger moms.
  • Medical interventions increase with age, such as requiring a Caesarean section or induced labour.
  • Older moms have a greater chance that their baby will be in an awkward position at the time of labour.
  • Your health may not be as pristine as it was in your 20s.

There are advantages to being old?

Of course, there are a lot of advantages to giving birth at an age older than the average – especially psychologically. Women in their 30s and 40s may be more in-tune with their bodies and be more aware of what they need to do to stay healthy. With age (hopefully) comes wisdom.

You are potentially more confident and at a better stage in your life to handle the growing demands of a little one. And, perhaps, you are even more prepared fiscally to handle the financial responsibility of having kids.

1  Response to Birth Hormones

Four major hormones are at work when you give birth: oxytocin, beta-endorphin, adrenaline, and prolactin.

What do these hormones do anyway?

Oxytocin: This is perhaps the best-known birth hormone. Oxytocin also causes the rhythmic uterine contractions of labor, and levels peak at birth through stimulation of stretch receptors in a woman's lower vagina as the baby descends.

Beta-endorphin: This has properties similar to relaxers, like Demerol. It is a stress hormone and is released during moments of pain (God save the beta-endorphins).

Adrenaline: Adrenaline is secreted from the adrenal gland and is your flight-or-fight hormone. Think back to caveman times: you are out innocently picking berries, and a sabretooth tiger jumps out of nowhere to lunge at you. Your heart races, your mouth gets dry, and your eyes dilate so you can see better. All functions of the body not needed for this struggle are shut down. You suddenly have a supercharged body.

This is what happens when adrenaline kicks in. During labour, these hormones act in a different way. Your adrenaline will keep you going through your labour as the instinct to get your baby out safely (and quickly) kicks in.

Prolactin: This is the mothering hormone – the major hormone of breast milk synthesis and breastfeeding. It is associated with nurturing and bonding. Its release is thought to assist with the bonding of your baby.

Labour and birth involve peaks of all these hormones during delivery. They work together like an intricate orchestra. There is a theory that the more relaxed a woman is (as experienced labourers often are), the more naturally these hormones kick in. This helps nature take its course and have what is hoped to be a quick delivery.

Whether it’s your second time in labour or your fifth, at the end of the day, nobody can really predict what will happen. A quicker delivery is certainly more in your favour – especially if you did not have complications the first time. 

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