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The beginning of labor feels different for every woman. The length of labor varies, too. Your contractions or labor pains may feel mild or very uncomfortable depending upon your past experience with pain and how you put up with it. No one knows for certain what starts labor, but understanding the signs and symptoms of a typical labor will help you and your baby get through it.

Definition of Labor

Labor prepares your birth canal for delivery of your baby through contractions of your uterus or womb. These contractions help the baby move though your vagina. Labor is a good name for this because it’s usually a lot of work.

Signs of Labor

Most labor starts around the baby’s due date however you can’t predict when your labor will actually begin. If this is your first baby, you can expect your labor to last about 12-14 hours. Labor for your second and later children is usually shorter and easier. When you feel frequent and regular contractions, you will know you are in true labor. Call your healthcare provider if any of these things happen:

  • If you are in labor or think you are.
  • When your contractions are between 5 and 10 minutes apart.
  • If you have vaginal bleeding.
  • As soon as your water breaks, especially if it is green or brownish color. Don’t wait for contractions to begin.
  • If you can’t walk or talk during your contractions.

Stages of Childbirth

There are three stages you will go through during labor and delivery.

  • Stage 1
    Stage 1 begins when you start regular contractions that dilate the cervix or mouth of your uterus. Blood tinged mucous also called the bloody show is passed from the vagina. The contractions become longer and stronger near the end of this stage, which is usually the longest one of childbirth.
  • Stage 2
    Stage 2 starts once your cervix is fully dilated and ends with the birth of your baby. You will probably be asked to push during each contraction to help move the baby’s head down through the birth canal. If this is your first baby, it may take up to 2 hours or longer.
  • Stage 3
    Stage 3 starts after the baby is born through delivery of your placenta also called afterbirth. Your uterus continues to contract but causes less pain during this time. This stage is the shortest one lasting up to 15 or 20 minutes.

Monitoring During Labor

Your baby’s heart rate will be monitored or watched during your labor. This won’t prevent problems but it can alert your healthcare provider about possible ones. Special listening devices or electronic equipment will be used to measure your baby’s heart rate during your labor pains.

Natural Childbirth

Natural childbirth classes can teach ways to relax through special breathing patterns and imagining you are elsewhere. This method gives some women very good control of their discomfort.


Most women use medications to help control their pain during labor and delivery.

  • Analgesics can ease your pain and allow you to rest between contractions.
  • Anesthetics are drugs that remove pain.
  • Local anesthesia numbs a small area and is used at the time of delivery.
  • Regional anesthesia, usually an epidural, can take away the painful area in your uterus and pelvic area. With an epidural you are without pain, awake and able to participate in the birth of your baby. An epidural is the most common and safest type of anesthesia used during labor and delivery.

Types of Delivery

  • Vaginal Delivery
    Most likely your baby will be born through your vagina or birth canal. It is the natural and preferred method. Sometimes certain procedures are needed to help deliver your baby safely.
    • An episiotomy may be advised if your baby’s head is unable to go through your vagina without causing the skin or muscle to tear at the opening.
    • Sometimes your delivery needs to be helped along. Your healthcare provider may use forceps, which are spoon-shaped instruments, or vacuum caps placed on your baby’s head, to gently deliver your baby.
  • Cesarean Section
    Cesarean section or C-section is the surgical delivery of your baby through a cut made in your abdomen and uterus. It may be necessary when certain conditions make vaginal delivery unwise. C-section is a safe birthing option that seldom causes significant problems. Recovery time after a C-section may be longer and harder than after a vaginal delivery.

The DOs

  • You can take childbirth classes to help prepare you for labor and delivery.
  • Contact your healthcare provider if you are worried about your baby’s or your health and safety.

The DON'Ts

  • Do not eat or drink anything once your labor starts.
  • Do not have sex or put anything into your vagina after your water breaks.

We Have Learned

  1. Labor is usually faster for the second or later children.
    True or False
    The Answer is True
  2. There is no safe pain relief available during labor and delivery.
    True or False
    The Answer is False
  3. Usually recovery from a vaginal delivery is faster and easier than from a C-section.
    True or False
    The Answer is True

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