There is a certain predictable rhythm to a natural birth. Assuming that all goes according to plan, your upcoming birth will follow that rhythm. The process generally starts around the eighth month. For some women, it can start as early as week 30.
The first sign of labor is sometimes called ‘practice labor’. These are Braxton Hicks contractions, or false labor. These contractions can feel quite strong but most will be small and barely noticeable. Let your doctor know when you first notice them.
Your cervix will be thinning and starting to open up to allow your baby to safely pass through it. You will also start noticing a heavier discharge that may be bloody. This is your mucus plug falling from your cervix. This generally happens around the same time that your body ‘lightens’, or when the baby and your uterus drop lower into your pelvis. For most women, this will happen during the eighth and ninth months.
After nine long months you are ready to give birth. This can happen anytime within the 38th to the 42nd week. A slightly early or slightly late startis generally nothing to worry about. Most of the time, it simply means that the date of conception was slightly off in the calculations.
Stages of Your Labor
For many women, the first stage of true labor is the breaking of their amniotic sac, or water. They will feel a trickle or gush of odorlessand colorless fluid down their leg. Other women may feel a series of contractions. At first the contractions will be mild and far apart. As time progresses they will become much more intense and close together.
As your time approaches, contractions will last over 60 seconds apiece. They will occur roughly five minutes apart. This is the point that most doctors will suggest you be admitted to the hospital.
As you enter active labor, giving birth is just a matter of time. If your water has not yet broken, your doctor may break it for you to ease the passage of your baby. Your contractions will be longer and very close together. Lamaze or other breathing techniques may ease your discomfort over the next few hours. This is when pain begins. You should request pain medication now, if you are going to use it.
Your cervix will reach a full dilation of ten centimeters. Your contractions may be as long as a minute and a half each and will be very intense. This is the most painful part of giving birth but it is the shortest. It can last minutes or a few hours.
Your doctor and supporters will encourage you to push along with your contractions to move your baby along your vagina and out of your body. If all goes well, you may feel a burn as the head crowns in just a few minutes. The placenta will be passed soon after the baby comes out.
Your body will be sore as your internal organs readjust themselves. You may have tearing of the vaginal opening or other damage from the labor. Your breasts may begin to provide colostrum.