So, the big day is approaching and and whilst you’re no doubt desperate for that first cuddle with your newborn, we’re pretty sure that birth itself is something that you’d rather not think too much about.  However, one way to ensure that childbirth goes as smoothly as possible is to understand the birthing process and what is happening in your body at each stage.  We’re going to take a look at the three stages of labour and what you can expect from each…

Childbirth Stage One

The cervix dilates (opens up) until it reaches 10cm dilated. In a first labour, the time from the start of established labour to full dilation is between 6 and 12 hours. It is often quicker for subsequent births.

You may have early signs that labour is starting including backache, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting or a ‘show’ of sticky pink mucus. This is not the same as bleeding. If you are bleeding, something may be wrong so call the hospital immediately.

The most obvious signs of labour are:

  1. Regular contractions. These will continue to get stronger and more frequent. Call your hospital/midwife when regular contractions begin but do not go to hospital until contractions are coming approximately every five minutes and are lasting a minute each. The hospital will not admit you until you are in established labour (when the cervix is 3cm dilated).
  2. Waters breaking. If your waters break, call the hospital/midwife and they will probably advise you to come in immediately.

Pain Relief Options – At Home

  • You are likely to be at home for quite some time. Try different positions to make yourself more comfortable – you may like to walk around a little, go down on all fours and sway your hips from side to side or in a figure of eight movement; or lean over a chair/sofa. This helps the baby’s head move down into the correct position.
  • Breathe in and out slowly and deeply.
  • Soak in a warm bath.
  • Ask your partner to give you a massage.
  • Use a TENS machine (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation). TENS is a battery-operated machine that sends pulses via electrodes that are taped onto your back, stimulating the body to produce endorphins (natural painkillers). This may help early labour pains but will probably be ineffective during the later stages of established labour.

Pain Relief Options – In hospital

  • Gas and Air – This is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide and is inhaled through a mouthpiece. Gas and air takes the edge off the pain but will not take the pain away completely. Can cause nausea but has no side affects for the baby.
  • Pethidine – An intramuscular injection, which takes about 20 minutes to work and the effects last approximately 3 hours. It may cause nausea and make it more difficult to push when administered too close to delivery. Pethidine may also affect your baby causing the baby to be dozy or floppy. It also may affect the baby’s breathing but in this event, an antidote is given.
  • Epidural – A local anaesthetic administered intravenously into the space between your vertebrae. It numbs the nerves, thereby giving most women complete pain relief. There are a few drawbacks:
    1) An epidural can make your legs feel heavy, maybe even numb in some cases, leaving you less mobile e.g. to go to the loo or change positions during labour.
    2) You will also be put on a drip to maintain your blood pressure.
    3) You made need a catheter if you are having problems passing water.
    4) A few women suffer from backache after having an epidural
  • Water Birth – Most hospitals have birthing pools available. Some women find that this helps them to relax. If labour progresses normally it may be possible to deliver the baby in the pool. You will probably need to book a birthing pool in advance.
  • Holistic pain relief can include acupuncture, aromatherapy, homeopathy, hypnosis and reflexology. 

Childbirth Stage Two

This is the ‘pushing’ stage after your cervix has reached 10cm dilated and takes approximately one hour. Find the position that you are most comfortable with – standing, sitting, kneeling or squatting are often more comfortable than lying on your back, if you are able to do so. It is also a better position for your baby. Your midwife will be with you throughout this stage and will advise you when and how to push. If you or the baby become distressed, the midwife and doctors can help you with an episiotomy (a cut to the perineum, which will be stitched afterwards), forceps or vacuum (Ventouse) delivery.

Childbirth Stage Three

After your baby is born your womb will continue to contract in order to deliver the placenta. This may take another 20-60 minutes. However, your midwife will probably administer a Syntometrine injection to speed up the process and to prevent heavy bleeding. If you do not want this, you should say so on your birth plan.

Labour and delivery is painful but only lasts a few hours and the instant your baby is born, you won’t remember the pain!!!