During the three stages of labour, your body will prepare for the coming of your new baby (stage one), deliver the baby (stage two) and deliver the placenta (stage three). Throughout the stages, your body will use contractions to dilate and efface your cervix.
As your pregnancy begins to wrap up, your body will prepare for labour and delivery of your child. This is the process through which your baby will be born. This process is often different for each person. Some have quick labours and some long, difficult labours. Others may even experience labour that stalls or stops, leading to medical intervention.
It usually lasts for about 12 to 24 hours for a first birth and is typically shorter (eight to 10 hours) for other births. Throughout this time, you’ll experience three stages of labour.
The first stage is usually the longest and it ranges from when you first go into labour until your cervix is open. The beginning of this stage is called early labour. It is described as dilating from 0 to 6 centimeters.
As you progress and your contractions become stronger, you’ll move into the second part of the first stage of labour called active labor. This process is dilating from 6 to 8 centimeters and then transitioning into the second stage as you dilate 8 to 10 centimeters. Your contractions will become even stronger during this stage and your cervix will open up quickly. The second stage is when you push. This is the phase when you will actually give birth to your baby.
The third stage is the point when you deliver the placenta. This is also called afterbirth.
During these three stages, your body prepares for childbirth by going through dilation and effacement.
- Dilation: This is a process where your cervix stretches and opens to make way for your baby’s birth. Dilation is measured from 1 to 10 centimeters. Your provider will do a vaginal exam to check how dilated you are throughout your labour. You’ll be 10 centimeters dilated in the second stage for the delivery of your baby.
- Effacement: The cervix not only stretches during this stage, but it also becomes thinner. The shortening and thinning of your cervix are measured in percentages. You’ll progress from 0% to 100% effacement during your labour.
Think of your cervix as a round doorway that needs to stretch outward and get thinner before your baby can pass through it. This stretching and thinning are caused by contractions.
Contractions can be described in a variety of ways ranging from uncomfortable, period-like cramps to a painful tightening of your abdomen. You might also feel a dull ache in your back and lower abdomen, as well as pressure in your pelvis.
When you have a contraction, it’s actually the muscles of your uterus tightening at regular intervals to dilate and efface (open and thin) your cervix. During contractions, your abdomen becomes hard. Between contractions, your uterus relaxes and your abdomen becomes soft. Even though they can be painful, each contraction helps move you forward through the process.
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