The Signs And Stages Of Labour

The Signs And Stages Of Labour


The process of delivering a baby occurs in many stages and can last from a few minutes to a couple of days. It lasts right from contractions until the baby and the placenta are delivered. It is good for all expectant parents to be well informed of what they are about to experience to make the process more comfortable. 

Expectant mothers are often showered with tons of advice as to how to ensure a normal delivery. There are beliefs that long walks, squatting while mopping the floor and tremendous work at home towards the last weeks could guarantee a normal delivery. 

Everybody is different and so is every pregnancy. But it is also true that exercise and being active are good for the health of the mother and the baby.

As a mother approaches her last few weeks of pregnancy, and as her body prepares for delivery, there are certain signs that she can watch out for. Towards the last weeks, the baby moves lower into the pelvic region. The movement decreases pressure on the lungs and makes breathing easier. If the mother had been prone to heartburn during her pregnancy, she might have it less often towards the later stages of pregnancy. On the contrary, the downward movement of the baby increases pressure on the bladder and causes the mother to urinate more often. 

 Loss Of Mucus Plug 

During pregnancy, a thick plug of mucus fills the cervical opening to keep bacteria out of the uterus. If this falls out, one can notice a reddish brown discharge or stringy mucus. Labour then generally begins within 72 hours. 

Water Breaking 

During pregnancy the baby lies cushioned in a sack of fluid called the ‘amniotic sac’. The sac breaks before the start of labour and one can feel water dripping while standing or gushing while lying down. This is a normal occurrence and calls for quick medical attention. 

False Contractions 

These contractions occur towards the end of the pregnancy. If they do occur at irregular intervals and do not become more frequent, they are termed as ‘false or Braxton-Hicks contractions’. Such contractions may subside as one changes position or walks around. Though they are called ‘false’ they are of a preparatory nature. 

 On the other hand, true contractions occur at regular intervals and increase in frequency. They continue no matter what a person does. 

Signs Monitored At A Medical Examination 

  • Effacement 

Effacement is the thinning of the cervix in preparation for delivery. The cervix is the opening of the uterus (womb). If the membrane at the cervix is 50% effaced, it means that the cervix is thinned into half of its original. If the membrane is 100% effaced (full dilation), one is ready for a normal delivery. 

  • Dilation 

The cervix opens up or dilates to allow the baby to pass through. It is measured in centimetres and goes from 0-10. Slow dilation may begin days before labour, without any pain and it increases up to 10 cm in active labour. Dilation is measured by a doctor during labour. 

Stages Of Labour 

 Irrespective of the experience, labour can be classified into three stages. And the first sign is to watch out for real contractions. Here’s the low-down: 

 Stage 1: Early Labour 

During early or active labour, the cervix dilates and prepares for the baby to exit. By the end of stage 1, the cervix has effaced and dilated so that the baby has moved into the birth canal (vagina). This stage is further divided into two phases. 

  • Phase 1:  

The early labour or latent phase is with a dilation of 0-3 cms and mild to moderate contractions every 5-20 min. One may have a feeling of discomfort, backache and cramps. It is the longest stage of labour and could last from a few hours to a few days for first timers, and be quicker for subsequent deliveries. Some may request pain relief medication or follow relaxation techniques. Warm water showers, warm compress, breathing exercises, bathtub soaking have been proven to help through the early phase. 

  • Phase 2: 

The active labour phase starts with dilations that are about 3-4 cms.The contractions are stronger and more frequent viz. (1 min to 5 minutes apart). Some doctors ask patients to move to the hospital once they are in this phase of labour. 

Towards the end of phase 2, the cervix could be dilated to about 7-10 cms within a few minutes and contractions are stronger with pressure on lower back and rectum with a strong urge to push. 

Stage 2: The Birth 

  This stage could take just a few minutes in some cases but could be longer in others. The doctor encourages the patient to push at times and then stop. First the baby’s head appears (crowning) at the vaginal opening. A burning sensation is felt as the vagina and perineum is stretched and the head slowly surfaces into the world. The baby’s mouth and nose are the next to surface and the doctors use a syringe to clear out the mucus. Shortly, the baby’s body is delivered and the mother hears the first cry. The umbilical cord, that connects the baby to the placenta is clamped and cut. 

Stage 3: Delivery Of The Placenta 

  The last stage can take few minutes to half an hour. The mother may continue to have mild contractions, as the doctor massages the lower abdomen to help the uterus contract. One final push and the placenta is delivered. The doctor then examines the vagina to see if there is a need for a few stitches. 

Postpartum Care 

  Both the mother and the baby are closely monitored while in the hospital. Most hospitals brief the mother on what to expect in the coming days and how to handle the new-born. Cheers to motherhood!