The Stages of Labour
There are three stages to labour:
The first stage, when the cervix gradually opens up (dilates)
- The cervix needs to open about 10cm for a baby to pass through.This is called ‘fully dilated’. Contractions at the start of labour help to soften the cervix so that it gradually opens.
- Sometimes the process of softening can take many hours before you’re in what midwives call ‘established labour’. Established labour is when your cervix has dilated to at least 4cm. If you go into hospital or your midwifery unit before labour is established, you may be asked if you’d prefer to go home again for a while rather than spending many extra hours in hospital or the midwifery unit. If you go home, you should make sure you eat and drink, as you’ll need the energy.
- At night, try to get comfortable and relaxed. If you can, try to sleep. A warm bath or shower may help you to relax. During the day, keep upright and gently active. This helps the baby to move down into the pelvis and helps the cervix to dilate.
- Once labour is established, the midwife will check you from time to time to see how you are progressing. In a first labour, the time from the start of established labour to full dilation is usually between 6 and 12 hours. It is often quicker for subsequent pregnancies.
- Your midwife will tell you to try not to push until your cervix is fully open and the baby’s head can be seen.
- To help you get over the urge to push, try blowing out slowly and gently or, if the urge is too strong, in little puffs. Some people find this easier lying on their side, or on their knees and elbows, to reduce the pressure of the baby’s head on the cervix
The second stage, when the baby is pushed down the vagina and is born
This stage begins when the cervix is fully dilated and lasts until the birth of your baby. Your midwife will help you find a comfortable position and will guide you when you feel the urge to push.
Find a position
It will be a balance of which position you prefer and which will make labour easier for you. Gravity can be very helpful in labour and being upright can help speed labour along and relieve back pain. You might want to stand, sit on a birth stool or ball, kneel or squat (although squatting may feel difficult if you are not used to it).
If you are very tired, you might be more comfortable lying on your side rather than propped up with pillows. This is also a better position for your baby. If you’ve had backache in labour, kneeling on all fours might be helpful. It’s up to you. It can help if you have tried out some of these positions beforehand.
Some examples here
- the third stage, when the placenta comes away from the wall of the womb and is also pushed out of the vagina