Childbirth is a normal part of life, and if you’re a first-time mom, we know you’re going to have a lot of questions around labor and delivery. In this blog post, we’re going to talk you through what actually happens.
The most important thing to know it’s an amazing process! An estimated 140 million births take place every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and the majority of them occur without complications for either mom or baby. It’s a normal process that can be done safely with skilled support people, such as midwives. However, the WHO’s Assistant Director-General has observed that the increasing medicalization of normal childbirth processes are “undermining a woman’s own capability to give birth and negatively impacting her birth experience.”
Every first-time mom wants to know whether labor will hurt. It’s normal to feel a little intimidated by the process, and this is where midwives can help. A 2010 study, conducted in the United Kingdom, revealed that women reflected positively on how their midwives promoted “a sense of their ability to cope with the challenge of labor pain.” A relationship of mutual confidence was key to women’s ability to overcome their fears and self-doubt so they could focus on the task at hand. Every labor is unique, so it’s important to surround yourself with experts who can help you along the way.
Want to discuss labor and delivery? Talk to our certified midwives.
What are the early signs of labor?
As you approach your due date, there will be a number of signs that could indicate that labor is about to start. The Office on Women’s Health recommends calling your healthcare professional if you experience any of these symptoms, even if you haven’t quite reached full-term:
- You start to feel contractions
- You have persistent lower back pain or cramping
- Your water breaks (this can be a large gush or a slow trickle)
- You have a bloody discharge of mucus that had been blocking your cervix
It’s common for first-time moms to think they’re going into labor when they’re not. Braxton Hicks contractions, which are a tightening of your uterus that essentially functions as practice contractions, can take you by surprise and be quite painful. The best way to tell if your contractions are true labor is to time your contractions. If they’re becoming regular, and increasing in length and intensity, it’s time to call your midwife. Your baby is getting ready to enter the world!
What are the different stages of labor?
Every birth is different, but labor always progresses in three distinct stages. The Mayo Clinic observes that sometimes it will be over in a few hours; other times, it can test a mother’s physical and emotional stamina. It’s important to ensure you know what to expect.
Stage 1: Labor
Early labor is unpredictable, and for first-time moms it could last a few days or a few hours. This is when your cervix dilates and you’ll start to feel contractions. It’s generally not too uncomfortable, and you might find it helpful to go for a walk, take a shower or a bath, or try breathing exercises.
Active labor is when your cervix dilates from 6cm to 10cm. Your contractions will become much stronger and you’ll start to feel increasing pressure. This can last for several hours, and this is where you’ll need your midwife’s support and guidance to help manage your discomfort.
Most babies enter the pelvis facing to one side, and then rotate to face down.
Stage 2: Delivery
It’s time! Delivery can take a few minutes, or a few hours, but it’s common for first-time moms to be on the longer side. Your midwife will tell you when to push, which is when it’s time for you to bear down. It’s hard work, and you can experiment with different positions to find what feels best. Once your baby’s head is delivered, the rest of the body will follow shortly, and the cord will be cut.
Stage 3: Afterbirth
You’ll feel a huge sense of relief when you hear your baby’s first cry (of many, many more to come!). There’s nothing quite like having your little one placed onto your chest for the first time. The next step is to deliver the placenta, and then you can relax. If you like, you can even try breast-feeding. Your uterus will continue to contract as it returns to its normal size, and your midwife will determine whether you need any stitches to repair the tissue around your vagina. Finally, you can rest.
Is childbirth painful?
Every woman has a different experience with pain in childbirth. A 2015 study, published in Midwifery, found that women’s experience of coping with pain “is complex and multifaceted,” because although many women reported it as being challenging, they see it as necessary to birthing their baby. It found two main themes that influenced a woman’s ability to cope: this first is the importance of “individualized, continuous support,” while the second is “an acceptance of pain.”
Childbirth is painful, but manageable. There are lots of natural methods of pain relief that can help along the way, like massages, heat pads, cool washcloths, and changing positions. Interestingly, a 2009 Swedish study found that moms were often just as anxious about motherhood as they were about the birth itself. Again, researchers found that midwives played a key part in breaking down these fears and restoring a woman’s trust in herself to successfully become a mother.
Want to talk about a birth plan? We’ll help you give birth, your way.