First-time mums have a lot of information to contend with during pregnancy, from keeping healthy to preparing for birth, as well as navigating the mysterious world of newborns.
However, while we focus quite a bit on how to labour (i.e. at home or at the hospital) and how to manage pain, there isn’t always information provided on the labour itself, specifically the stages of labour.
Understanding the stages of labour can be immensely helpful to new mums, providing them with an idea of what to expect and allowing them to prepare. We’ve put together a simple guide on the three stages of labour, to help mums-to-be along.
The First Stage
During the first stage of labour, your cervix begins to soften and open, first becoming thin and then opening up to 10cm, the point at which the second stage begins. Many people don’t realise that the first stage of labour can last for hours, or even days. In the very early stages of this, women may not even realise that they are in labour, as there can be little indications. As the first stage continues, pregnant women will begin to feel discomfort.
Signs That You’re In The First Stage
The signs that a woman is in the first stage of labour include:
- The passing of their ‘show’, a blood-stained mucus discharge
- Some lower back pain
- Nausea or vomiting, which is common in labour
- An intermittent pain similar to period cramps
- Loose stools
- Water breaking, but this does not happen to every woman
What To Do
If you feel that you’re in the first stage of labour, sometimes referred to as early labour, it’s important to keep calm. Your doctor should have instructed you on your specific situation, but most women are encouraged to stay at home as long as they can during this time. As women can be limited from eating later on, it’s a good idea to have regular snacks and keep your energy reserves up for the efforts of labour. Also work to rest as much as you can, including heading to bed if your early labour starts at night, while still being ready to head to a hospital. To relax, try a nice bath or warm shower, and attempt to continue with your toilet routine and the emptying of your bowels.
As the first stage of labour starts to draw to a close, women will feel more tired and will have more intense pain. Many describe the pain as coming in waves, and as the second stage is approaching, those waves will be closer together. When there is 3-5 minutes between each wave, you should be heading to the hospital.
If You Aren’t Sure
For first-time mums, it isn’t always easy to know when labour has started, or when you should go to the hospital. If you aren’t sure, or you’re concerned about your progress, give your hospital and/or midwife a call to get their advice. When you’re having strong signs of labour, such as water breaking and regular contractions, you should definitely contact the hospital. However, in most cases, women are encouraged to stay home during their early labour, particularly for low-risk pregnancies.
The Second Stage
During the second stage of labour, the cervix has become fully dilated and contractions will increase in length and power until your child is born. This stage of labour is when you’ll be pushing, and that means it is painful, so you’ll want to think about pain management.
Signs That You’re In The Second Stage
During the second stage of labour, you may experience:
- Contractions that last for longer and feel more powerful, with only 1-2 minutes of break in-between,
- A feeling of increased pressure in your bottom
- Nausea and vomiting accompanied by cramps and shaking
- A feeling of stretching or burning (or both) in your vagina,
- An urge to push
What To Do
During the second stage of labour, you will have people around you to help you to birth your baby, including your birth partner, a midwife and a doctor (if you birth in a hospital). So, it’s important to just get through the task ahead, and visualise your baby in your arms.
Focus on your contractions and remember to rest and breath deeply throughout, particularly during the rest periods. Try and relax as much as you can, allowing your body to move through the stages it needs to get through to deliver your baby. Listen to your body, trying different positions (i.e. walking or standing), or even having a bath or shower to help with the pain. Remember to stay hydrated.
Time To Push
Many women dread the pushing stage, but it is important to remember that this means your labour is nearly done. For some, pushing is a relief because it is something they can physically do to help bring their baby into the world.
When you start feeling the urge to push, it can totally overwhelm you. Some women can only focus on that. Like anything in pregnancy, the phase where pushing happens varies, but it can last for as long as two hours. For subsequent pregnancies, this is often reduced. As well as an urge to push, women feel an urge to go to the toilet, pressure, a feeling of stretching or burning, and the baby’s head moving down into the birth canal.
During this stage, it’s important to remember to breathe as deepl as possible and maintain a sense of calm in the rest times between pushing. Remember to listen to your midwife, who is there to help.
The Third Stage
While it is called the Third Stage of labour, this stage actually starts after your baby is already born, and finishes when your placenta has been delivered and labour has drawn to a close. Most mothers have very little memory of the third stage of labour, as they are already involved in bonding with their newborn.
In the third stage, women may experience more contractions, to help to deliver the placenta, as well as a feeling of fullness in the vagina from pressure.
There are two options going into the third stage of labour: managed and physiological. Managed third stage labour involves an injection, often given in hospitals, to encourage the placenta to be delivered. Physiological third stage, sometimes called natural third stage, has no injection, and involves the delivery of the placenta without the help of drugs. If you would like to try the natural route, being upright, having skin-to-skin contact with your baby, and starting to breastfeed can all help to get the delivery of your placenta started.
If you become concerned about any symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention we have some hotlines and suggested websites for further information and advice https://www.stayathomemum.com.au/my-kids/babies/important-hotlines-websites/
SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information. All information provided is correct at time of publication.