Labor is the process by which contractions of the uterus cause birth. Many women, especially with their first babies, think they are in labor when they're not. Common questions include, "What happens during labor? What do contractions feel like? And how do I know that labor has begun?" Understanding the typical signs of labor can help you know what to expect as your due date approaches.
First, it is important to know that every labor is different. The duration and progression of labor differs from woman to woman and from birth to birth. There are, however, general guidelines for labor that a doctor uses to decide whether the delivery is normal, or not. And the basic process is the same. Labor occurs in three stages which are:
1. Dilation and effacement
2. Baby delivery
3. Placenta delivery
During stage 1, or dilation and effacement, the cervix thins out and opens to allow the fetus to move from the uterus into the vagina. This stage usually lasts several hours. By the end of the first stage, the cervix will have fully dilated from 0-3 cm to around 10 cm. When the cervix is 3 to 4 cm dilated, active labor begins. Contractions become more intense and more frequent, and the cervix dilates faster. First time mothers usually progress faster through this stage.
During stage 2, or the baby delivery, the mother pushes while the muscles of the uterus contract to move the fetus through the birth canal. The second stage of labor may last 2 or 3 hours, depending the position of the baby's head, the size of the baby and the size of the birth canal. This stage ends when the baby is born.
During stage 3, or placenta delivery, the afterbirth comes out of the uterus through the birth canal. This usually happens within 30 minutes after the birth of the baby.
eHealthPedia (2009).Stages of Labor. eHealth Forum [Online]. Available: http://ehealthforum.com/health/stages_of_labor-e25.html