What happens during labour?

Labour can last many hours so doctors recommend trying to get some rest and relaxation during the very early stages; having a short sleep or having a bath will help to keep you calm and well-rested; it is also a good idea to try and have something small to eat to keep you going.

There are three different stages of labour; the first stage involves the cervix opening up (commonly known as dilating) and the second stage involves the baby being pushed down into the vagina and out into the world; the final stage involves the placenta being pushed out.

  • Stage 1: during this stage the cervix will gradually dilate to prepare for the delivery of the baby; the cervix needs to be around 10 centimetres dilated for the baby to come out. It can take a long time for the cervix to become fully dilated; you will not need to go to hospital until you are in ‘established labour’ which starts after 3 centimetres of dilation. Usually, it takes longer for the cervix to become fully dilated if it is your first child; the process can take anywhere between 6 and 12 hours. Once the cervix is opened fully, the midwife will tell you when to push.
  • Stage 2: during this stage your body will feel like it wants to push the baby out but you should try to ignore it and follow the instructions of your midwife. During this stage you should find a position which is most comfortable for you; this may be lying on your side, lying on your back, kneeling on all fours or squatting down. As the contractions come, your midwife will tell you to push and breathe deeply. Once half the head is visible, the midwife will usually tell you to stop pushing so that the baby can be delivered slowly; this will hopefully prevent any tearing. The hard work is now almost over and the baby will be dried off and given to you; the umbilical cord will also be cut.
  • Stage 3: during this stage the placenta will be pushed out of the vagina; in some cases, the midwife may administer an injection to speed up the process.

After the birth, you will be given time alone with your baby once everything has been sorted out and the baby has been weighed. If you have suffered a large tear, this will be sewn up; you can choose to have a local anaesthetic for this if you have not already had an epidural. If you have a small tear, this will be left to heal naturally.

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