For many women, giving birth to a child is a life-changing experience, but what is the process like? If you’re an expectant mother unsure of what to expect, you’re in the right place. First, it’s important to note that there are many phases of a vaginal delivery, from early stages to active labor, delivery, and post-delivery. Each stage is different and varies from woman to woman.
Prior to labor and delivery, you will begin going through the early stages of labor when your baby decides it’s ready to be born. One of the most common events that happens during this early stage is your water breaking, either on its own or with the help of your doctor. When your water breaks, it means the amniotic sac, which is the fluid-filled membrane cradling your child, ruptures. For many women, the fluid is clear. If it’s not and is instead brown or yellow, contact your doctor if you’re not already at the hospital.
Once your water breaks, contractions usually begin. Contractions are simply your uterus tightening and releasing in order to help your body push your baby from your cervix. In the beginning, they may not even be noticeable, but as your labor progresses, your contractions will become more intense. If you’re laboring at home, a good rule of thumb is to head to the hospital once your contractions are five minutes apart, lasting for a minute, and have been occurring regularly for at least an hour. This is a sign of true, active labor.
As your contractions increase in intensity, your cervix will also begin to dilate. Your cervix resides in the lowest part of your uterus and connects your uterus to your vagina. As labor progresses, your cervix will soften and begin to open until it dilates enough for your baby to push through. In most cases, the goal is to get your cervix dilated to 10 centimeters before the pushing phase.
Once your cervix is fully dilated, it’s time to push. As you push your baby through the cervix and into your vagina, your muscles and skin will stretch to accommodate your baby’s size. Eventually, your skin and muscles will reach what’s referred to as maximum stretching. When this happens, you may feel a burning sensation as your baby’s head begins to emerge. A common term for this phase is the “ring of fire.”
As your baby’s head emerges, your doctor and medical team will quickly remove any fluid and mucus from their nose and mouth before your body pushes the rest of your baby’s body out.
Once you deliver your baby, your doctor will turn their attention toward delivering your placenta. Oftentimes, this phase happens spontaneously, shortly after the delivery of your baby. However, it may take up to an hour. To help speed the process along, your doctor or nurses may massage your abdomen to help your uterus release the placenta.
Once you deliver your placenta, your doctor will look it over to ensure all parts of it are present. If needed, your doctor will reach inside your uterus to collect any pieces left behind.
Once you deliver your placenta, you’ll go to recovery where you can rest up and eventually spend time bonding with your baby.
Labor and delivery are different for every woman. The process itself is pretty unpredictable, but many women find comfort in writing out birth plans for how they would like their labor and deliveries to go.