Labor and Delivery Step-by-Step Guide at Pregnancy & Baby Plus


Prodomal Labor

What's happening

  • The cervix begins to soften, thin and move forward, and it may begin to open. The baby settles into the pelvis.
  • Contractions may be noticeable at this point as an achy sensation or as pressure in the lower abdomen or lower back. Contractions in this phase are usually irregular ‑- starting and stopping, sometimes strong, sometimes mild. This is natural and is your body's way of "gearing up."
  • This phase can last from a few hours to a few days.

What helps

  • Don't worry about whether or not this is really labor. For the vast majority, labor eventually makes itself very clear.
  • Try to be patient and have confidence that your body is doing exactly what it needs to do.
  • Take good care of yourself: eat, drink plenty of fluids, rest.
  • Do things you enjoy: watch TV, visit with family or friends, take a walk.
  • Surround yourself with people with whom you feel comfortable and safe. Your support people can help by keeping you company, keeping your spirits up and providing reassurance.

Early Labor (Latent Phase)

What's happening

  • The cervix continues to thin out and open, dilating to three to four centimeters.
  • Labor is meant to be gradual, so this phase may take quite a while ‑- usually about two-thirds of the total labor time. Over a period of several hours, contractions will become longer, stronger and more regular (about five minutes apart, each one lasting 25 to 45 seconds).
  • The pinkish vaginal discharge (called "show") usually increases as labor progresses.

What helps

  • It can be hard to believe that "this is it." Take time to settle down and work with the labor.
  • Once again, the best thing to do is to take good care of yourself: Alternate rest and activity (for instance, take a nice walk followed by a relaxing shower), eat easily digested foods (such as tea and toast) and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Many women find that the best place to be during this phase is at home, where you can easily move about and do things for yourself.
  • When contractions become so strong that you can't talk through them anymore, begin using the relaxation and breathing strategies that you learned in childbirth classes. Your support people should be nearby, helping you to stay calm and confident.
  • Keep the environment pleasant and calm ‑- perhaps listen to music, get a nice shoulder massage, prepare last-minute things for the baby.

Active Labor

What's happening

  • Contractions continue to become longer and stronger, eventually about three minutes apart and lasting for a minute or more.
  • During this phase, which generally takes from two to six hours, the cervix effaces and dilates to about eight centimeters.
  • Women in active labor usually get serious and focused. Labor is very hard work.

What helps

  • Now labor has real momentum. Develop a rhythm with your labor: Do something active during the contractions ‑- such as using a breathing pattern, movement or sound ‑- and rest between contractions.
  • As the strength of the contractions increases, so does your need for support. All present should focus their attention on supporting you.
  • Changing positions frequently not only helps you stay more comfortable but also enhances progress.
  • The environment can influence your labor. Make it peaceful and personalize it with music, dim lights and so on.

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