It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or your fifth time, the thought of going into labour can be a daunting one. Just as every pregnancy can be different so can every labour. If it is your second or subsequent labour, you will have a good idea of what to expect, but you may also have an expectation that it will be the same as last time and that’s often not the case. Each labour can be easier or harder than the last for no reason.
For some women pre-labour can last for days and not know they are in labour while for others labour begins and progresses quickly. A common sign of pre-labour is a dull or throbbing lower back pain. The pelvic bones may open slightly in readiness. Some women experience nausea and vomiting during pre-labour.
Some women go into labour naturally while others are induced. A patient may ask her doctor to organise an induction if she is feeling uncomfortable during the final weeks of pregnancy. A doctor may recommend an induction if the mother has a health condition such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure, an overdue pregnancy or labour hasn’t begun despite her waters breaking.
There are three stages of labour and each one can take a matter or minutes or hours.
First Stage – During early labour, the cervix needs to soften and dilate to 10 centimetres. Some women may not know they have started labour while others experience pain and discomfort from the beginning.
Contractions are often irregular and with no pattern during this stage. The waters may break with a sudden gush or slow leak. Towards the end of this stage, labour pains intensify coming in waves building in a climax and then reducing. Women often go to the hospital once contractions are three to five minutes apart.
Second Stage – The cervix is now fully dilated, and the contractions are longer and stronger with only one to two minutes between each one. Women may feel the urge to push and can experience cramps, nausea and vomiting. Some women will try moving into different positions from standing, sitting and or walking around. The pushing phase varies but for first-time mothers, it can last up to two hours. Midwives will recommend their patients concentrate on their breathing and relaxing between contractions. The baby is born at the end of this stage.
Third Stage – The final stage of labour is the delivery of the placenta and membranes.
For many women, labour be the worst pain they experience during their lifetime. The main options for pain relief during labour include nitrous oxide, pethidine and epidural anaesthesia. Hot or cold packs, a warm shower or bath, hypnosis or acupuncture can also provide relief for some women. Ask your obstetrician or midwife about your options for pain relief.
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