If you are pregnant, or considering getting pregnant, you may have begun thinking about childbirth. You may have scary images in your mind, or none at all. Because we do not readily discuss childbirth in our culture, there is a big void of information that often gets filled with anxiety and fear. To help, we’re creating a 3-Part Childbirth Preparation Series that will take you through an overview or the labor process and give you simple and tangible tips to more effectively prepare. Let’s begin by laying the foundation and talking about what actually happens during labor (well…at least an overview of the process. We can’t tell you what will exactly happen for you!).
What Actually Happens During Labor?
You may conjure up images from the movies of a woman’s water breaking (like a gigantic waterfall), the mad dash to the hospital, and then her furious torrent of expletives at her partner in between tiring bouts of pushing. While a very small minority of labors unfold that way, real life labor (for most of us) is much longer — with a good amount of time spent at home while doing lots of…waiting. To clarify further, let’s break down the three stages of labor:
- Stage 1 (Contractions): This is definitely the longest period. It encompasses the time it takes for the cervix to fully dilate to 10cm (at which time you move onto stage 2, pushing). There are three phases within Stage 1:
- Early Labor Phase: This is the time from the onset of labor to when the cervix is dilated 6 cm. It can last approximately 8-12 hrs. Contractions typically last about 30-45 seconds and are quite mild (maybe a slight discomfort). They are also quite irregular, with anywhere from 5-30 minutes rest in between. This is not the time to rush to the hospital, but it is the time to ensure you are fully packed and ready to go when the time comes. Try to rest, or if during the day, go about some simple activities that still allow you to conserve your energy (because you will need it).
- Active Labor Phase: This is the time when the cervix dilates from 6 cm – 8 cm, and the time to head to the hospital or birthing center. It can last approximately 3-5 hrs, and contractions get stronger and longer (45 – 60 seconds), with rest in between getting shorter (3 – 5 minutes). This is when things get painful, and you will have to begin relying on the techniques we will cover in the part 2 of this series.
- Transition Labor Phase: This is the final phase where the cervix fully dilates up to 10 cm. To put it bluntly, this stage is brutal, but thankfully it’s also the shortest (30 minutes – 2 hours). Contractions are longest and strongest here (a full 60 – 90 seconds), and rest in between is shortest (about 2 minutes). Women will need to continue to rely on their techniques from the earlier phase, but will also need strong support from their birthing coach and/or partner. This part is tough, but you’ve come this far. The end is nearing and you will soon meet the next great love (or loves) of your life.
- Stage 2 (Delivery of the Baby): Once your cervix is fully dilated to 10 cm, you are ready to push (and will feel an urgent need to do so). This stage could take a few minutes (1-2 pushes only) or up to several hours. There are many factors that determine the length of this stage, including the baby’s and mother’s position, but a huge factor is the woman’s strength and her ability to understand how to effectively push (more on that in part 3 of this series).
- Stage 3 (Delivery of the Placenta): Say what? There’s a stage AFTER the baby comes out? Well yes, but the good news is that for many women, it might require little to no effort. Sometimes the placenta comes out easily right after the baby. Other times, women may have to push more to get it out, but at least it’s nowhere near the degree of pushing in stage 2.
So there you have it – childbirth in a nutshell. This is not meant to scare you, but simply inform you so you understand what you’ll be going into. Parts 2 and 3 of this series will give you tangible tips to ensure you are physically and mentally ready.
Before we get into detail on Stage 1 preparation in the next post, we want to leave you with one critical technique that will form the foundation of everything you do in labor (and in life), and that is proper breathing.
The First and Most Fundamental Technique to Master
If you’ve been reading our blog posts, you’ve likely heard over and over (and over) again just how important proper breathing is. That’s because it’s THAT important! Not only is proper breathing critical for improving your health, building a strong core, creating a healthier fetal growth environment, and preventing pain or injuries like diastasis recti, pelvic floor dysfunction, SI joint pain, and low back pain, but it’s also crucial during the childbirth process.
When we say “proper” breathing, we are referring to a style of breathing you may have heard us mention several times before (in almost every post) known as 360° Breathing. This style of breathing has a host of benefits, but when it comes to childbirth, 360° Breathing reduces stress, improves the ability to focus, and actually helps you manage pain better. Watch this video to learn 360° Breathing. If you need more help, this video shows a closer view of the rib cage movement. Start mastering this style of breathing now. Practice it over and over again until it becomes natural. Then, in part 2, we’ll add onto this.
Part 2: What’s to Come
In Part 2, we give you some specific techniques to practice to begin preparing your body to manage the challenges of Stage 1 Labor — from pain management to positions to stamina training, we’ve got you covered. Ready for part 2? Let’s go…
Source: ACOG. “Nation’s Ob-Gyns Take Aim at Preventing Cesareans.” Feb 19, 2014