What to Expect During Labor and Delivery

In general when you feel a series of cramps, almost like menstrual cramps, in your lower back or pelvic area, you should be alert to the possibility that this is real labor. These cramps are happening on and off for at least an hour, lasting about 30 seconds, increasing in strength. No matter what kind of position you put yourself in, they will not go away.

Don’t start panicking, though. You still have time to stay home, relax, take a nap if possible (you may need your strength later on), go for a walk, do some reading or find some way to distract yourself so time won’t seem to drag on while you wait.

If your water should break or you have a bloody show, you should contact your doctor right away. He may want you to go in at that time. Otherwise, prepare to go into the hospital when your contractions have been about 5 minutes apart for the past hour. (Your doctor may provide you with other guidelines, but the 5 minute rule is common.)

When you do get to the hospital, your health care team will share with you what will be happening throughout your labor and delivery. You will probably be given a vaginal exam to determine the size of your cervix and how far you are dilated.

Your baby’s position and heart rate will be constantly monitored, and the health care provider may put a fetal monitor on you to check how the baby is responding to contractions. If everything is going well, you may be unhooked from the fetal monitor.

Your Labor Will Come in 3 Stages

The first stage starts when your labor begins and you have dilated to 10 centimeters. The baby is making its way to the birth canal and is preparing to meet the outside world. In this stage you may find you want relief from the pain. Doctors try to encourage you to have your partner there to help you with breathing exercises or give you a massage when desired. If you feel you may need more pain relief, you may want to discuss with your doctor ahead of time about the options you have available to you.

The second stage is the delivery: when the head emerges from the birth canal and you finally get a glimpse of your little miracle and hold him or her. You will want to discuss ahead of time with your doctor about how much of a role you will want your partner to play in the delivery itself. Will he cut the umbilical cord? Hand the baby to you? You have many options for your partner’s involvement.

The third stage is when the placenta is expelled from the body after a few more contractions. Most women are so absorbed in what is happening with their new little one that they are unaware of this stage.

Obviously, the length of labor will be different for each individual, according to different circumstances, but the average amount of time of labor for the first pregnancy is about 12 hours.


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