The Woman’s Clinic wants to wish all of our expectant mamas a very happy Labor — and Delivery — Day! At this Labor Day get-together, wearing white is always in fashion. Hospital gowns are, of course, the most stylish item for new mothers. TWC knows that the most important labor of all is the incredible task of creating a tiny human.
We know that Labor Day can feel a bit scary at times. The anxiety surrounding your child’s birth is anything but a picnic. While it’s completely natural to feel anxious and even overwhelmed at times with the prospect of bringing new life into the world, our team of knowledgeable, caring physicians are here to support your motherhood journey from conception to delivery.
Let’s take a closer look at everything expectant mothers should know about labor and delivery.
How Do I Know If Labor is Real?
Now that we know what to expect when expecting, how can moms tell the difference between false labor and true labor? For first-time mothers, this can be especially important in knowing when it’s time for your Labor Day. Identifying the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions vs. real contractions can be simplified with a few key points.
Braxton-Hicks contractions, also known as false labor, can mimic labor contractions. These contractions typically begin the third trimester of pregnancy. Although the sensation is similar to labor pains, Braxton-Hicks are simply contractions of the uterus that typically do not result in labor. Braxton-Hicks contractions are more prevalent the further along you are in your pregnancy. They tend to occur most frequently in the afternoon or evening, especially after you’ve had an active day.
The key signs of Braxton-Hicks contractions include:
- The onset of pressure and tightening in the abdomen.
- Often painless or mild pain.
- Contractions that come and go, without becoming stronger or closer together.
- Contractions that go away when you change position or empty your bladder.
What Do Contractions Feel Like?
True contractions are a sign that you’re about to meet your new baby! Contractions are also a tightening of the uterus, however, true contractions are caused by the body’s release of the hormone oxycontin to signal labor. For most women, contractions begin in the 40th week of pregnancy, with premature contractions beginning around 37 weeks. True contractions begin at the top of the uterus to push the baby downward into the birth canal in preparation for delivery.
Many women describe the pain associated with real contractions as coming in “waves.” The pain is mild at first, reaches a peak, and fades, similar to how many women experience the cycle of period cramps. A few key ways to tell true contractions apart from Braxton-Hicks include:
- Contractions are evenly spaced and grow closer as delivery approaches (i.e. five minutes apart, reducing to three minutes apart).
- Water may break or mothers may also experience light pink or bloody discharge.
- The feeling that your baby has “dropped” to the lower stomach often occurs.
- The pain associated with true contractions is sharper and that your baby wants out.
What are the Stages of Labor?
Knowledge is peace of mind when it comes to having a smooth delivery. Labor and delivery are typically divided into three clear stages. Get to know the stages of labor before you check-in and welcome your new bundle of joy.
During the initial stages of labor, your cervix dilates and contractions begin. The first contractions are often mild and irregular. You may also notice the mucus plug (a clear, pink, or slightly bloody discharge) falls out at this stage when using the bathroom. Some women’s water will also break, although not every mother experiences this.
First-time moms should be prepared to be flexible during this stage. Like many things in life, early labor can be unpredictable. The average length varies from hours to days for new mothers, while subsequent births are often shorter. Your doctor will note your unique delivery journey for future births so that you can plan accordingly.
To encourage active labor, you can try light exercise such as walking, taking a shower or bath, and listening to relaxing music or meditations to promote comfort during the early stages of labor.
Once active labor begins, the cervix will dilate from 6 centimeters (cm) to 10 cm and contractions will become stronger, closer together, and more regular. Many women experience nausea and leg cramping. As the pain intensifies, don’t be afraid to alert your doctor and ask for pain medication or anesthesia. Remember; you’re in control of your labor and delivery. Your healthcare team is here to support you, give you options, and ensure the health and safety of both you and your baby.
Active labor typically lasts four to eight hours, sometimes more, with the cervix dilating one centimeter per hour.
Birth of the Baby
It’s time to push, Mama! If you’ve been working with a birthing coach, now is the time to put your calm breathing and amazing strength into practice.
For a vaginal delivery, your doctor will guide you through the birthing process and tell you when to bear down and push during each contraction. Consider your healthcare team your own personal cheerleaders! If possible, try different birthing positions to encourage an easy delivery such as squatting, sitting, and kneeling. Your doctor may advise you to push gently at various points to prevent vaginal tearing. Vaginal delivery can range anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, often longer in first-time mothers and those who have had epidurals.
For a C-section, your doctor will typically place you on a liquid diet if the procedure is planned in advance. Your healthcare team will ensure you’re comfortable throughout the procedure and discuss all necessary post-op aftercare with you to ensure a speedy recovery.
Once the baby’s head is delivered, your healthcare provider will cut the umbilical cord and introduce your adorable little one to the world.
Delivery of the Placenta
We know. You’re asking “didn’t I just do this?” While we wish our courageous moms could catch a break, the third stage of labor and delivery is the last hurdle to motherhood.
The delivery of the placenta is a relatively quick and easy process. You’ll continue to experience mild contractions and your healthcare team may recommend medication to help regulate bleeding. Then, the placenta is delivered in around five to thirty minutes. You will continue to feel contractions until your uterus returns to normal size, however, the pain will gradually decrease.
As tiresome as delivering the placenta sounds, most new moms are too distracted by their adorable mini-me to pay much attention to this final stage of labor and delivery.
When Is It Time to Come In?
Unsure of your specific birth plan? Looking to schedule some time with a healthcare provider to better understand the labor and delivery process? No matter where you are in your pregnancy journey, it’s always a great time to schedule an appointment with the team at TWC. We look forward to celebrating Labor Day with you!