The moment you’ve been waiting for is approaching: your labor and delivery. After nine months, you are getting ready to meet the little one who’s been slowly growing inside of your belly. The anticipation might be killing you!
But, you may also be anticipating this moment with a little bit of dread, too. If this is your first pregnancy, you may be a little nervous about the process awaiting you. Childbirth is a life-changing experience, but it’s a difficult one to understand if you have never experienced it before.
So, you might be asking: What happens during labor?
The labor and delivery process is different for every woman, and the best advice you can get will be from your personal doctor. They will do all they can to educate you about this process before you enter your third trimester. Knowledge is power, and this is just as true with labor and delivery as it is with anything else. Knowing what to expect before your childbirth experience will go a long way to increasing your confidence and preparing you for this life-changing moment.
Below, you’ll find some helpful information about what happens during labor and delivery to be as prepared as possible.
The Labor and Deliver Process: Step By Step
While every woman’s pregnancy delivery process will be unique, there are some common stages that an expectant mother will go through in the moments before and during childbirth. As mentioned above, your doctor should be there to guide you through these steps and will make sure you understand what to expect far before your labor and delivery process begins.
For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the child delivery process of a vaginal birth — the most common way for expectant mothers to deliver their babies into the world. There are three stages to the labor and delivery process: before labor, during labor and post-labor recovery.
What Happens Before Labor?
As you enter your third trimester, you will need to be able to recognize the early signs of delivery. Knowing that you are entering labor gives you the chance to make it to the hospital in time for a safe delivery experience.
As you learn more about the child delivery process, you should remember the symptoms of impending labor, such as these:
- Your water breaks.
- You can breathe easier, due to the baby “dropping” into a lower positon for childbirth.
- You notice stringy mucus or discharge in your underwear as the mucus plug covering the cervix is expelled.
- You get a burst of energy to accomplish tasks around the house, otherwise known as “nesting.”
- You start feeling consistent contractions at five minutes apart.
- You feel pain in your belly and lower back.
Once your contractions become steadier and consistently occur five minutes apart, it’s time to go to the hospital. But, even if your contractions haven’t met this requirement, don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor when you first start experiencing the labor and delivery process; they may advise you to come in earlier, just in case.
What Happens During Labor?
What happens during labor and delivery will vary for each woman. For some women, labor takes hours and is a trying process; for others, labor only takes minutes, and their baby is easily delivered. Your doctor will keep you updated on your progress from beginning to end so you are aware of what is going on.
When you are first admitted to the hospital or birthing suite, your nurse will check how dilated your cervix is. Expectant mothers can be a few centimeters dilated during the weeks and days prior to delivery, but many professionals will not consider it active and established labor until your cervix is at least three centimeters dilated. Because you are not considered fully dilated until you are at 10 centimeters, your nurses and doctors will usually allow your labor to progress naturally while they check in every so often. In a first labor, this dilation usually takes about six to 12 hours. During this time, you will likely continue to feel contractions.
When your cervix is fully dilated, you will enter the second stage of what happens during natural birth: It will be time to push. Your nurse or doctor will help you find a comfortable position to aid in this physical process. The urge to push feels a bit like you feel when you need to poop; in fact, you may find yourself urinating or defecating during labor as you give in to these urges. Don’t worry — your doctors and nurses have seen it all.
Usually, this step of labor takes up to three hours. When your baby’s head is almost ready to come out, you will feel 100 percent ready to get it over with — but your nurse will help you slow your labor to ease your baby out slowly and gently. Otherwise, you run the risk of tearing the muscles and skin around your vagina and anus. Pushing out the head is the hardest part of the child delivery process; once that is over, the rest of your baby will emerge with the next one or two contractions.
What Happens Right After You Give Birth?
You may think that your labor and delivery process is complete when you hear your baby’s first cry and they’ve officially entered the world. Your doctor will clean and evaluate your baby directly after delivery to ensure that they are safe and healthy, but your delivery process won’t end there.
During childbirth, you will deliver more than just your baby; you will also deliver the placenta, as well. For some women, the placenta is delivered within minutes of their babies’ births; for other women, it can take 30 to 60 minutes. Your placenta will be about one-fifth the size of your baby, but you may still experience pain and intense cramping as your body works to expel the placenta from your uterus.
Once you deliver the placenta, you will receive medication to help your uterus contract and prevent excessive bleeding. Your belly may be massaged to aid in this step. In the meantime, your doctor will inspect your genital area for lacerations and repair any tears that require medical intervention. Once your genital area is clean and repaired, a sanitary pad will be placed underneath, and you will be helped into a clean gown.
During this whole process, you should be focused on bonding with your newborn baby. You get to decide what happens after labor and delivery: who holds your baby, whether you want your baby cleaned prior to skin-on-skin contact, how you and your spouse will share bonding duties, and more.
A few hours later, you will likely be transferred to a postpartum room, where you will spend the next 24-48 hours recovering from delivery. Your doctor and nurses will be there to support you during this process, and you will also have access to a lactation specialist if you plan on breastfeeding your baby.
Before you are released from the hospital, your doctors will examine your baby and you to make sure you are healing properly and are healthy enough to recover the rest of the way at home.
In general, the steps above are what happens while giving birth. However, it’s important to expect the unexpected during your labor and delivery process; your experience may be completely different based on your own medical situation and your body’s response to the rapid changes. Remember: The information presented here is not intended to be and should not be taken as medical advice. Only your personal doctor can provide the medical guidance you need during this life-changing experience.
No matter what happens while giving birth, stay confident that you have the medical support and the personal confidence to bring your little one into the world!