There are two main ways of delivering a child out of your body. The first is a vaginal delivery, where the baby goes through the vagina. The second is called a cesarean section, where a doctor surgically removes the baby from the uterus. Every birth is different; therefore, the duration of labor can’t be precise. Some women have quick labor while others last over a day. 

The dramatic movie scenes in which a pregnant woman’s water breaks, contractions get extremely intense, and immediate labor isn’t accurate for many women. Water might break slowly over time, and pre-labor contractions could last for days or weeks before delivery. Doctors usually wait until contractions last 2-3 minutes every 5 mins before considering you are ready to enter the delivery room.

Every expecting mother should first understand that every labor is different. It might take a few hours or over a day. Labor usually starts with contractions. However, not every contraction means you’re about to deliver a baby. This is called false labor. False labor pains, referred to as Braxton Hicks contractions, can occur as early as the fourth month but become frequent as your due date approaches. It has similar symptoms to true labor but has distinguishable indicators like: 

  • Contractions are irregular & not closer together 
  • Contractions stop when you walk, rest, or change your position
  • Some are usually weak & don’t get stronger or start strong & get weaker
  • Tightening in the abdomen
  • No water break and bleeding

Labor has four common stages, namely, early & active labor, childbirth, placenta delivery, and recovery. 

  • Stage 1: Early and active labor

Early labor is when your cervix begins to open at 6 cm, and contractions are slow. During active labor, your cervix opens further to 10cm, and contractions are longer, stronger, & closer together. This is usually when obstetricians give you an epidural. However, if the cervix reaches 8-9 cm dilation, an epidural isn’t recommended because there would not be enough time to administer it. This could be due to the mother’s inability to get into the right position or get the full pain relief benefits.

When a pregnant woman receives an epidural, her natural urge to push is weakened due to numbness. This will make her depend on the midwife to guide her through childbirth. Without it, your urge to push is strong, and you won’t need much help. Once you’ve been cleared for delivery, your midwife or doctor will check for your cervix to reach 10cm dilation. You must listen to your doctor’s advice, practice breathing exercises, and push when your doctor says to.

  • Stage 2: Childbirth

This is the most difficult stage. It can take a few minutes to a few hours or more to push your baby into the world. It might take longer for first-time moms and women with an epidural. Your doctor will ask you to try different positions until you find one that feels best. Some positions include squatting, sitting, and kneeling (even on your hands and knees). When you begin to push, your doctor will guide you on whether to push hard, slow or stop altogether, Slowing down gives your vaginal tissues time to stretch rather than tear. 

Usually, the baby’s head will be the first appearance, followed shortly by the rest of the baby’s body. It’s normal to wait a few moments to cut the umbilical cord to increase the flow of nutrient-rich blood from the cord and the placenta to the baby. This raises the baby’s iron and lowers the risk of anemia, and promotes healthy development and growth.

  • Stage 3: Placenta delivery

Most people refer to labor as childbirth and aren’t aware that there is also the placenta delivery after the baby is born. The placenta is a temporary membrane that develops during pregnancy to nourish and protect the fetus. After delivering the baby, your doctor or midwife will massage your stomach, causing your uterus to contract and push the placenta. Contractions will continue but are mild and less painful to expel the placenta. The entire process could last from a few minutes to a few hours. 

After the placenta is delivered, your doctor will examine it to ensure it’s intact. If there are remaining parts, they will be removed to avoid bleeding and infection.  Massaging the mother’s stomach will minimize the uterus and reduce bleeding. In addition, your doctor will examine if any repairs are needed in the vaginal region. Some women have tears to allow the baby to exit. Therefore, they’ll be injected with an anesthetic to stitch it after birth.

  • Stage 4: Recovery

This stage consists of the mother’s body healing itself after labor. The mother needs to rest and take care of her baby. Postnatal appointments are scheduled to check vitals. The baby is usually ready for breastfeeding a few hours after delivery. Doctors recommend skin-to-skin contact with the baby while breastfeeding to encourage the baby to nurse and keep her/him warm and calm.