The Normal Progression of Labor

Woman laboring in water

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You may look at labor as something mysterious or heard so many different birth stories that you are confused as to what is likely to happen. A good childbirth class will cover not only the normal progression of labor and the stages of labor, but also how to cope with each stage and what might be going on emotionally, physically, and mentally. It will include a robust discussion of how your partner, friends, and a doula can help you and you may want to write a birth plan to guide you.

Here are the basics that you should know about the progression and stages of labor.

First Stage of Labor

This begins when you start to have regular contractions that increase in frequency and intensity. Make sure you know how to time contractions. Usually, you will start off slowly, nearly always questioning if this is really labor.

Bear in mind that a lot of women in early labor feel like they have the flu or are just really sleepy. The contractions will then pick up and you will be in the active phase of the first stage of labor. Contractions are more intense and come more frequently, usually requiring more of your attention.

Somewhere between this active phase and the next phase, transition, you will change to your place of birth. The transition phase is the short but hard part of labor. In transition, the contractions come very close together, but they never actually feel any stronger than the contractions of the active phase. At the end of the transition, you will be completely dilated.

Second Stage of Labor

In the second stage, you are fully dilated and you will begin pushing your baby into the world. Most women really enjoy the pushing stage, they say that they feel more actively involved. Your contractions will get farther apart and feel differently.

If you have been unmedicated you will feel the urge to push. If you have been medicated you may or may not feel the urge to push and will be directed at how to proceed. If there is an episiotomy done, it will be done at the end of this stage.

The end of the second stage will be marked by the birth of your baby.

Third Stage of Labor

This is the anticlimax. You are holding your lovely baby and anywhere from five minutes to an hour later, they will want you to give a few small pushes to get the placenta out. Most women are so wrapped up in their babies that they say, "I forgot about the placenta."

Nursing your baby right away will help speed up the third stage or control any bleeding that you are having.

Why a Birth Plan May Help

There is a lot to take in when thinking about how labor will go. You may have also had some thoughts about what your preferences are for how you cope with labor and what you would like to do during certain portions. These details are typically covered in a birth plan.

A birth plan isn't something that works like a contract, but more like a communication tool. This is something that you use to open a discussion between you, your partner, your provider, and others on your birth team. You can use the stages of labor to break down your preferences. Don't forget to include what your preferences are after the birth of your baby.

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