Childbirth

What to Expect During Labor: Everything You Need to Know

Wondering what to do in the labor room? Not sure how to labor a baby? Find the answers to all your questions about the childbirth process here to prepare for your big day.

Whether this will be your first labor, or it’s been a few years since your last labor experience, you may have one big question as you get ready for your delivery day: What can I expect while giving birth?

Knowing what to expect during labor is a big part of preparing yourself for this life-changing experience. No two labors are the same, but there are some common tips and tricks when it comes to what to do in the labor room while you are delivering. To help you out, we’ve listed some of them in the article below.

Remember: The information in this article is not intended to be and should not be taken as medical advice. The best way to learn what to expect in labor is by consulting your obstetrician. They can give you the personalized information you need for your pregnancy and suggestions on how to labor a baby in your particular pregnancy.

In the meantime, while you’re preparing yourself for this experience, you can read some general information on what to expect when you’re in labor here.

What to Expect When Giving Birth Naturally

When you’re wondering about what to expect during labor and delivery, you first need to understand that every childbirth experience is different. You probably know there are two different ways to deliver a baby: vaginally or by cesarean-section. For the sake of this article, we’ll be focusing on the former, which is still the most common way for American women to deliver their babies.

But, before we get into the specifics of what to do during the delivery of a baby, it’s important that you know what to expect when going into labor. The labor and delivery process usually occurs in three parts: pre-labor symptoms and contractions, the delivery of the baby, and the delivery of the placenta. You will need to be able to recognize the signs of early labor in order to get yourself the medical care you need when you need it.

When many expectant mothers think about what to expect when going into labor, they imagine a dramatic scene: their water breaking in one huge gush, contractions that bend them over in half, and rapid labor that rushes them to the hospital in just the nick of time. For most women, this is far from what actually happens.

You may find that your water breaks slowly over time, and it’s normal to experience pre-labor contractions (known as Braxton-Hicks contractions) for days or even weeks before you deliver. You may even be turned away from the hospital if you arrive in the early stages of labor; usually, a doctor will require your contractions to last two to three minutes and occur every five minutes, or your cervix to be dilated at least three centimeters, before you are considered to be in “established labor.”

Once your doctor has confirmed your active labor, you will typically be admitted and start working toward the things to do during labor and delivery, according to your personal situation.

How To Labor a Baby

Once you have been admitted, it may take several hours before you get to the most exciting part of labor, which will start when your cervix is fully dilated at 10 centimeters. Many first-time laborers will take about six to 12 hours to become fully dilated. You will spend this time in your hospital room and likely continue to feel contractions that gradually get stronger. Your nurses and doctors will continue to check in on you during this time.

When you are fully dilated, it’s time to start bringing your child into the world. But, how do you give birth? There are a few steps that all expectant mothers should follow during this incredible experience:

Step 1: Always listen to your doctor’s or nurse’s advice.

Many expectant mothers wonder what to do during delivery of their baby. Because childbirth is an experience that you can’t really understand unless you have been through it, it’s hard to conceptualize what to expect when giving birth naturally until you’re actually in the middle of it.

Don’t worry — your doctors and nurses will always tell you what to do during delivery to have the safest and most efficient delivery process. They will be monitoring your and your baby’s health closely and provide medical advice accordingly. While the majority of deliveries go smoothly, something may come up during your labor that deviates from what you’ve been led to expect during childbirth. Don’t panic; your doctor will make sure you know how to get through labor safely and do what is best for you and your unborn baby.

Step 2: Be in tune with your body.

That said, you are the one who knows best when it comes to what you are feeling during labor. It’s important that you are hyper-aware of your body during delivery; you will need to be an advocate for yourself and tell your doctor if anything feels wrong along the way. As much monitoring as your doctors and nurses will be doing during your labor process, you need to also pay attention to what you are feeling and the experiences you are having.

Keep your doctor updated on your body’s response to childbirth, and always tell your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms during childbirth:

  • strong headache
  • blurred or double vision
  • sudden, steady severe pain at the top of the belly, just below the high point between the ribs
  • overactive reflexes
  • body chills
  • feeling extremely weak or faint
  • trouble breathing

Step 3: Utilize breathing exercises and your support team.

If you’re like many women, you’ve learned how to give birth to a baby from childbirth classes. During the actual delivery process, it can be easy to forget all the calming and soothing exercises you learned — but they can play a key role in managing your labor pain and making your experience as stress-free as possible.

It can be extremely helpful to have your spouse or another loved one by your side to remind you of these breathing exercises when you forget. They can guide you through your patterned breathing during labor to help you calm yourself during difficult contractions. Ensuring that you keep breathing during labor is an important thing to do during labor and delivery for your mental and physical well-being.

Step 4: Push only when your doctor says to.

When you are learning about what to expect when giving birth naturally, you probably have a big question: When do I push?

While your pre-labor and labor contractions can last for hours, the actual laboring (the “pushing” part) will not. In most deliveries, the actual delivery of a baby takes about 30 minutes to an hour — but yours could take as short as a few minutes or as long as several hours. It will all depend on your body’s response to the labor process.

Even though you may feel uncomfortable pressure during your contractions, it’s incredibly important that you do not push until your doctor tells you to. They will be waiting for your cervix to be completely dilated before starting the delivery process; push too early, and you risk damage and tearing to the muscles and tissue in your genital area.

Step 5: Ease up on your pushing while the baby’s head crowns.

When you are given the go-ahead to push, you will need to use the same muscles you use to defecate (which means, yes, there is a possibility that you will poop on the delivery table). It can be a great relief to finally work toward expelling your baby from your uterus, but it will likely take a few pushes before your baby’s head is near to crowning.

At this point, you will probably give anything to be done with labor — but it’s crucially important that you stop pushing when the baby’s head is near to crowning. You need to give your vagina time to stretch and accommodate your child’s large head; push too soon and too fast, and you can dramatically tear the skin around your vagina and perineum. Halting your pushing can be one of the hardest things to do during labor and delivery, but you will thank yourself for it for when it comes to your postpartum recovery.

When your doctor gives you the go-ahead, you’ll be able to push your baby’s head out of your vagina. This is the hardest part of the actual delivery, as your baby’s head is the largest part of their body. Usually, after the head has emerged, the rest of your baby will follow fairly easily with one or two more pushes.

Step 6: Don’t stop pushing after the baby is born.

It can be a huge relief when your baby is born and you hear their first little cries as they enter the world. You’ll probably be ready to relax and have some quality time with your little one — but, first things first; you need to deliver the placenta.

When women learn about what to expect during labor and delivery, they often focus on the action of delivering their baby. It’s equally important that you understand what to expect after this, from delivering the placenta to your postpartum recovery. As far as the placenta goes, your doctor or nurse will usually massage your stomach after your baby is delivered to cause your uterus to contract and expel the placenta. The delivery of the placenta can happen any time after your baby is born, and you’ll need to decide whether you wish to immediately cut the umbilical cord, take advantage of delayed cord clamping or choose another option. Your doctor will make sure the entire umbilical cord has been delivered and that you and your baby are safe and healthy after your delivery is complete.

This is just a small list of what to expect when you’re in labor, and your doctor is always the best professional to give you the medical advice you need. Remember, every labor is different, so it’s important to be ready for the unpredictable during your childbirth experience. Just relax and take a deep breath — you can do this!