Childbirth: 3 Important Things to Know

    Updated 23 December 2021 |
    Published 10 March 2020
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    Reviewed by EBCOG, the European Board & College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
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    Labor is a very important process that marks the end of pregnancy and is one of the most common reasons for anxiety among expectant mothers. With a better understanding of the coming event, you can regain a sense of control over the process.

    There are two types of childbirth: vaginal delivery and cesarean section. Depending on certain circumstances and the progress of labor, either variant may be recommended.

    Vaginal childbirth

    This type of labor consists of three stages: the first stage (early, active, and transition phases), the second stage (baby delivery), and the third stage (placenta delivery). 

    The first stage

    Early labor lasts up to 20 hours. During this phase, contractions can occur every 5–30 minutes and last 30–45 seconds. Many health care providers will advise their patients to stay home during early labor, monitor signs, relax, and focus on their breathing to get through a contraction while at home. 

    Active labor will begin when contractions become regular and last for 45–60 seconds every 3–5 minutes. This stage of labor typically lasts for one to seven hours. Active labor is generally when it’s time to go to the hospital, as contractions get closer together in preparation for childbirth.

    Your health care provider might suggest going to the hospital earlier if you experience symptoms such as bleeding, severe abdominal pain, reduced fetal movements, or if your water breaks. If contractions occur and you are less than 37 weeks along, you will also be advised to go to the hospital to make sure everything is okay.

    Transition phase. This is the final phase of the first stage of labor. During this phase, the cervix dilates up to 10 centimeters (4 inches), the baby’s head (or buttocks if that is the case) descends, and the urge to push occurs.

    Delivery of the baby

    On average, this stage lasts from 30 minutes up to 3 hours. The duration varies for each delivery, but it tends to take longer for first-time moms and people who are offered epidural analgesia.

    The biggest step during this stage is delivering the baby’s head. A perineal cut (episiotomy) can be performed in certain cases at this point. After that, the baby’s body will usually be delivered fairly quickly. The providers will cut the umbilical cord, help clear the baby’s airways if necessary, and do all the needed examinations. 

    Usually, you’ll be able to rest, greet your baby, or even start skin-to-skin contact, and only then move to the final stage of childbirth — the delivery of the placenta.

    Delivery of the placenta

    After the baby is delivered, the third stage of labor — the placenta delivery — starts. It normally takes around 30 minutes for the placenta to be expelled. 

    Your health care provider will check the size, consistency, shape, and integrity of the placenta. They will examine both sides of it, as well as the way the cord is attached. This examination provides information about the pregnancy and helps medical providers in your and your baby’s care management. 

    After the placenta is delivered, the delivering provider will examine your uterus, vagina, and perineum for bleeding and tears and repair those, if present.

    After all of this, it’s time for rest, sleep, and food to help you gain strength, breastfeed, and begin caring for your baby.

    Cesarean section

    A cesarean section is an operation in which the baby is removed from the mother’s body through the abdomen. This procedure is usually planned in advance, so you should arrive at the maternity hospital on the appointed day. But sometimes it may be performed due to emergency circumstances.

    Common indications for cesarean section:

    • Placenta previa or placenta detachment
    • A mismatch between fetal size and the mother’s pelvis
    • Transverse fetal lie (when the baby is lying sideways across the uterus) or breech presentation
    • Repeated cesarean sections in the past

    Recovery after childbirth

    The uterus remains enlarged for some time after giving birth, but it will eventually nearly return to its pre-pregnancy size.

    Vaginal delivery and breastfeeding speed up this process.

    Uterine muscle contractions are stimulated by oxytocin, a hormone released during breastfeeding. That’s why the process of breastfeeding can cause pain in your lower abdomen.

    Childbirth is followed by lochia, which is a discharge that consists of blood, mucus, and uterine tissue. The inner layer of the uterus will heal entirely six to eight weeks after giving birth.

    Сontent created in association with EBCOG, the European Board & College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

    History of updates

    Current version (23 December 2021)

    Reviewed by EBCOG, the European Board & College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

    Published (10 March 2020)

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