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Having your Baby: the Labor Process

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 4, 2024.

What is the labor process?

The labor process is a series of 3 stages that your body goes through to deliver your baby. It is not known for sure what causes labor to begin. Hormones made by you and your baby and changes in your uterus may help labor to start. Labor usually starts 2 weeks before or after your due date. Most women do not have their baby exactly on their due date.

What is the first stage of labor?

The first stage of labor includes latent (early) labor and active labor. Your uterus will contract to prepare your cervix for delivery and to push your baby out of the birth canal. Your cervix will dilate (widen) and efface (soften and become thinner). Your contractions may last from 30 to 60 seconds. The contractions usually start in the back and move to the front. You may also have a pink, clear, or slightly bloody discharge called bloody show. Bloody show is caused by the movement of a mucus plug from your cervix. During pregnancy, the mucus plug blocks your cervix to prevent it from opening.

What should I do during early labor?

Early labor may last for several hours. You will most likely be at home during early labor. Rest as much as possible while you are at home. Have someone rub your back. It may be helpful to place ice packs on your lower back. Go for a short walk if you are able. Drink water and suck on ice chips. Ask your healthcare provider if it is okay to eat during early labor.

How will I know when I am in active labor?

This stage may last up to 12 hours if this is your first pregnancy. It may last up to 10 hours if you delivered a baby before. Your contractions will get stronger, last longer, and happen more frequently. They will also become more intense and painful. Time your contractions from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next. Write this information down for 1 hour. Your healthcare provider will tell you when to go to the hospital or birthing center. This will be based on how many minutes apart your contractions are.

What is the second stage of labor?

The second stage is the time between full cervix dilation and the birth of your baby. Your cervix will be completely dilated to 10 centimeters and your baby will be ready to be born. The second stage usually lasts 20 minutes to 2 hours. It may last up to 3 hours if this is your first baby.

What is the third stage of labor?

The placenta (afterbirth) is delivered during this stage. After you give birth, your uterus will continue to contract to help push out the placenta. These contractions will begin 5 to 30 minutes after you give birth. Your healthcare provider will tell you when to push. You may have chills or shakiness during this stage. You may be given medicine to help prevent heavy bleeding that can happen during this stage.

How can I manage pain while I am in labor?

Pain can be managed naturally or with medicines. You can naturally manage pain by using relaxation methods and controlled breathing. There are different types of medicines that can be used to relieve pain while you are in labor. These medicines may be given through an IV or an epidural (thin catheter in your lower back). Talk with your healthcare about your options for pain medicines if you choose to use them. Tell your provider if you prefer not to have any pain control medicines during labor.

When should I call my obstetrician?

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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