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Labor is often a little unnerving to think about for most new moms.  It is hard to comprehend what your body and mind will go through during that time.  No matter how many books you read, how many childbirth preparation classes you take, or how many stories you hear from other mothers you will never know for sure what will happen until it does.  Each woman handles their labor differently.

Knowing what to expect at each stage of labor can help you know if you are really in labor, what you need to do to prepare yourself (as best as possible) for each stage, and what questions to ask your prenatal caregiver.  Below you will find a little information about each stage of labor.  Be sure to ask your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

Before Labor Begins:

  • You can expect to notice an increase in the amount of Braxton Hicks (practice contractions) you are having.
  • You may also notice a burst of energy, often called nesting.
  • You may notice you are sleeping less and when you do sleep you are in a much lighter sleep.
  • Your doctor may tell you that your cervix is softening or even beginning to dilate a little.

Stage 1 – Early Phase:

  • Contractions will begin.  Typically they are any where from 5 to 20 minutes apart and last approximately 30-60 seconds.  You will notice a regular pattern to your contractions and they will become stronger, longer, and closer together over time.
  • You may have some bloody show.
  • You may notice an dull low back ache.
  • Many women experience an increased frequency of bowel movements.
  • You cervix will dilate from 1-4 centimeters during this stage.
  • Some women experience their water breaking during this stage (it does not always happen though).

Stage 1 – Active Phase:

  • Your cervix will dilate from 4-7 centimeters during this stage of labor.
  • You will notice contraction that are more intense and coming more frequently.  Typically contractions will last between 40-80 seconds and will be coming every 2-4 minutes.
  • If your water has not already broken you may notice it ruptures during this stage (but not always).

Stage 1 – Transition Phase:

  • Your cervix will dilate from 7-10 centimeters during this stage.
  • Your contractions will be much more intense.  Typically they will last between 60-90 seconds every 2-3 minutes (sometimes more frequently).
  • You may begin to get the urge to push.
  • Some women experience nausea, vomiting, hiccups and cramps during this stage.
  • Some women begin to shake uncontrollably during this stage since your body is working so hard during the contractions.
  • You may notice that you are becoming drowsy.  Rest between contractions if you can.

Stage 2:

  • Your cervix is completely dilated.
  • You will experience contractions every 2-5 minutes and they will typically last 60 seconds or more.  They are often less intense during this stage than they were during the transition phase.
  • The baby will begin to descend through the birth canal.
  • You will have a strong urge to push.  Your doctor or midwife and the nurses will help you through the pushing.
  • You will experience a burning sensation as the baby’s head crowns.
  • This stage ends with the delivery of the baby.

Stage 3:

  • You will experience mild contractions.  After the intensity of the contractions you have been feeling up to this point you may hardly notice these ones.
  • You will be asked to push again to deliver the placenta.
  • If there was any tearing or you had an episiotomy your doctor will stitch you up at this time.

Stage 4:

  • This is the recovery stage.  You will experience mild cramping/contraction pain as your uterus begins to return to its previous size.
  • Many women experience shaking as your muscles recover from the intensity of childbirth.
  • You may experience difficulty urinating at first.
  • There will be pain and discomfort in your perineal area.

Talk to your doctor about when you should him or her and when you should head to the hospital.  If you are worried about any stage of labor and what you should expect be sure to discuss those questions and concerns with your doctor.

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