As you come closer to the end of your pregnancy you will notice your body preparing itself to give birth to your bundle of joy. Your body will go into labour which is made up of three distinct stages. Each stage is also broken down into smaller phases and ultimately leads to your body preparing to give birth.
The entire process of a vaginal birth takes, on average, up to 13 hours if you are giving birth for the first time. If you have given birth before, it may take approximately 8 hours. However, the exact duration and intensity will vary from woman to woman.
Stage One- The Latent Phase & Active Phase
Stage one begins at your body’s first initiation of labour and ends when your cervix is fully dilated. You will begin to feel re. The first stage will generally be the longest stage of your labour taking on average 8 hours or 4 hours if you've had children before.
Stage one is broken into two identifiable stages: the latent phase and the active phase. The latent phase is the period between the start of labour until your cervix is 4cm dilated. The active phase is from this 4cm dilation until the cervix is fully dilated at 10cm. During the first stage, your doctor or midwife will do regular vaginal examinations to see how dilated your cervix is and monitor your baby’s position and the colour of your amniotic fluid.
When you become fully dilated, your baby will move further down the birth canal towards the entrance of your vagina. You may feel some pressure and discomfort, possibly like you need to do a number two in the bathroom. This is in preparation for the second stage of labour.
Stage Two- Expulsion: Descent of Head & Pushing Phase
Stage two is identified from the time your cervix is fully dilated until your baby is delivered. Stage two, like stage one, consists of two phases: the active and passive phases. The passive or descent phase happens when your baby's head moves down through your vagina. This is followed by the active phase where you will feel the desire to push.
Try your best to relax and not tense up while you are contracting, your body is trying to release something, not hold it in. The active phase will involve pushing in time with your uterine contractions. Pushing will come naturally to you, so don't worry about not being able to do it. Your doctor or midwife will guide you on the correct times to push that will minimise your fatigue and assist you in giving birth most efficiently.
If you have never given birth before, the active phase may take on average 40 minutes. If you have had children before, it may take about 20 minutes. Once your baby is delivered, the umbilical cord will be clamped and you may hold and breastfeed your baby to prepare for the third and final stage of labour.
Stage Three- Placenta Delivery
After you've given birth to your baby your labour is not over yet, the placenta still needs to be delivered. The third stage lasts from the delivery of your baby until the delivery of the placenta and membranes, also known as after birth. There are two ways for you to manage this stage of labour either actively or physiologically.
Active simply refers to you having treatment to make the after birth happen faster. This is typically an injection into your thigh as your baby’s head is crowning. Active management of this stage makes it faster and has been shown to reduce blood loss.
Physiological management, on the other hand, happens when you receive no medical treatment and allow this stage to happen naturally. This may take up to 30 minutes which is typically longer than active management. There are some situations where physiological management will not be advised, your doctor will explain more to you if this happens to be your situation.
After your placenta is expelled you will continue to have contractions of the uterus. Your doctor or midwife will continue to monitor your blood loss to ensure it is not life-threatening.
The three stages of labour, of course, are specific to vaginal births. If you are having a scheduled cesarean section your doctors may induce your labour. If you are getting close to your due date, pay attention to your body's signals and ensure you contact your doctor or midwife as soon as you believe you have begun stage 1. A safe labour and healthy baby is the goal of any pregnancy and your doctor or midwife will do all they can to ensure this throughout every stage of your labour.