As if it weren't already hard enough to sleep in your last trimester, now you've got labor and delivery anxiety to keep you up too. Try not to let it get to you so much. The fact is, nature has designed labor and birth simply and elegantly. Your friends can recite their own personal war stories about childbirth endlessly ‑- and the way it is experienced is unique each and every time ‑- but the actual process is remarkably and beautifully constant.
Medical experts ‑- doctors, nurses, midwives, doulas ‑- divide labor into "stages" and "phases." This is simply a way to describe the typical changes that occur as labor progresses. As you experience labor you will most likely slide from one stage or phase to another in a fairly seamless way, not always noticing the specific changes. Here's a road map for you to follow as the story of your baby's birth unfolds.
The First Stage
During this stage, the cervix softens, thins and opens. The baby settles into the pelvis. The process often starts out slowly with short, infrequent contractions of the uterus. Over a period of hours or days, the contractions become stronger and closer together. (These are the prodomal and early phases.) As the intensity of the contractions increases, the cervix dilates and effaces and the baby moves lower into the pelvis (active phase). The contractions are most intense as the cervix dilates the last few centimeters (transition phase). At the end of the first stage of labor, the cervix is fully opened and the baby is ready to move through the birth canal.
As labor progresses and the contractions become stronger, you'll become more focused and serious. Changing positions, walking, rocking or moving will help labor progress. Focused breathing, rhythmic vocalization, rest between contractions, showers and baths, massage and the application of hot and cold are only some of the measures that can help you move through the first stage of labor more comfortably. As the work of labor becomes harder, your need for strong, continuous, focused labor support also will increase.