It’s the question every first time mom wonders…
What is labor like? It's so natural to want to skip over labor and just meet that baby already but it's not so simple! Our hope is that this helps ease your anxiety through learning the practical side to labor.
You may have heard of the “Stages of Labor” but we are here to tell you what that actually means! Let me break it down for you.
First Stage of Labor
The first stage of labor is your body getting ready to give birth and is typically the longest stage of labor. There are several early signs of labor that all lead up to the big show. This first stage focuses on opening up the cervix. The cervix sits right at the base of the uterus and remains closed during pregnancy to keep the baby in. There is so much more that happens though.
Most people focus on “dilation” of the cervix but it actually does several things to prep for your baby’s birth. It becomes soft and effaced or thins. Effacement is reported in percentage with 100% being ready for baby and 0% meaning you have a ways to go before giving birth. It moves forward to more accurately align with the vaginal opening. Think a straight line rather than an “L” shape.
That first stage of labor lasts until your cervix is 10 cm dilated and ready for a baby to pass through. This means that all of the other components of cervical preparation like effacement, moving position and softening have also happened. So early labor, active labor and transition are all included in this first stage of labor.
Second Stage of Labor
Once your cervix is fully prepared for your baby’s birth and you are ready to push, you move into the second stage of labor.
The second stage of labor includes the time spent pushing and the birth of your baby! This is fairly straight forward but can involve a bit of anxiety for many people when they think about birth. Pushing can last anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours. The length of this stage heavily relies on a few different factors including the position of the baby, if you have had a previous vaginal delivery, the shape of the pelvis and more.
Pushing and birth is often when we find parents incredibly grateful for doula support. We are able to step in and offer encouragement and physical aid as many parents are exhausted and running on their last bit of energy at that point.
Pushing is demanding on both the maternal body and the support team as there is a lot leading up to this point, one being a lack of sleep. We see empty water bottles and fill them, we find ways to help sustain physically demanding pushing positions to conserve that precious energy for both the woman and her partner.
We make sure that her support team is nourished and has time to use the bathroom. We take note of when birth is imminent and make sure everyone is present and has taken any needed breaks well before that time. We revisit your desires for your birth and make sure your birth team is all on the same page so you don’t look back with regret having missed those moments. Your doula sees the stress sitting above your brows and rub them away or talk you through relaxing between pushes. A doula supports you!
So you are enjoying those first moments of your newborn in your arms, maybe doing skin to skin with you or maybe just gazing into their brand new eyes. But you’re not done yet!
Third Stage of Labor
Did you know there is a third stage of labor even after your baby is born? There is! But it’s usually pretty short. The third stage of labor is the delivery of the placenta.
Most often, this happens within about 5-10 minutes of the baby’s birth and is fairly uneventful but other times it takes longer and a bit more effort to fully release. Some providers will push on your tummy to help the placenta release, they may slightly tug on the umbilical cord and other times it comes out all on its own. They may ask you to give a little push and after pushing a baby out, this feels like a cake walk!
Once you’ve delivered the placenta you’ve made it! All three stages of labor are complete and you get to soak in those newborn snuggles!
Prepare Well: Doula Support & Childbirth Classes
If you’ve decided that you’d like doula support for your birth, contact us and we will get you more information on our offerings and schedule a meet and greet with one of our incredible doula teams! They are eager to meet you and see how they can support your specific desires for your birth.
We also offer childbirth classes in Bellingham and Skagit Valley where we dive into more detail about these topics. All of our classes are taught by our doulas too! They’ve been there supporting families in the doula role many times and know what it is like so you can ask all of those burning questions about what labor feels like!
You’re 39 weeks pregnant and ready to be done. It’s been nine months of feeling those sweet and sometimes painful kicks, a bit of nausea, heartburn and lots of anticipation.
I’m pretty sure it is meant to be uncomfortable by the time we make it to the end of pregnancy. We are ready to do anything to get this baby out! And so we have the motivation, the determination and the will to go through anything necessary to meet this baby.
So much goes into this process of pregnancy, labor and birth!
You start to feel a little crampy on and off and don’t think much of it. It is the middle of the night after all. You roll over and once again, try to find that comfortable position to sleep in and realize you need to get up and pee.
That’s a lot of work. You pee a depressingly small amount, stand up and make your way to the bed. Another one hits. This time it’s undeniably a contraction. You feel crampy, it intensifies a bit then wears off.
So what now? Do you go back to bed? Do you wake up your partner in excitement? After all, you both have been waiting for labor to hit! When do you start timing contractions? How do you time contractions?
All of these questions and emotions begin to flood your mind.
There’s a lot to think about when you think labor may have started. We want to bring some clear cut steps and make it easy for you. So here are some answers to the big question…
I think I am in labor. Now what do I do?!
1) ALERT YOUR BIRTH TEAM! This could be your labor doula, your midwife or OB/Gyn or anyone else you would like to be involved in your labor and delivery. Then do everything in your power to GO BACK TO SLEEP! Labor can be a marathon and sleep is your best ally. The more energy you can conserve in those early hours of labor, the better off you’ll be at the end.
2) If you have tried and tried to sleep and just can’t, EAT A NUTRITIOUS MEAL AND STAY HYDRATED. Think about something you’d eat before a big workout. Nothing too heavy, but something with enough density to it that it will get you through.
3) RELAX and DISTRACT: If that means taking a shower, then do it! If that means baking a birthday cake, do that! The goal is to keep your mind off of your contractions as much as possible until you are no longer able to distract yourself from them. This is also the time to take that last pregnant belly photo if you want one before you meet your baby! Better sneak that in there now!
4) Once you are no longer able to distract yourself during your contractions, this is when you can start timing them. We recommend using the “Full Term App” on your iphone or android. This app will automatically tell you how long your contractions are, how far apart they are and give you an option to track the intensity of each contraction.
5) TRACK THEM FOR ONE HOUR: Please don’t get hung up on tracking your contractions. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed and completely consumed by your contractions. That is not what we want. So we suggest tracking them for an hour and then putting it away until you notice a big change. Then you can track them again and contact your care provider when you are seeing the signs that they have directed you to look for.
Often, your OB/Gyn or Midwife will give you a metric like 5-1-1. This means to watch for when your contractions are 5 minutes apart, one minute long and holding this for at least one hour. These numbers vary based on a few factors, but this will be something that your app can tell you and will be a cue to go to your chosen birth location.
Timing a contraction using the “Full Term App” includes pressing “Start” when you feel the contraction starting and then pressing “Stop” once you feel it subside. We highly recommend this as labor tends to be consuming and this offers an easy solution.
If you would rather use a stopwatch and piece of paper, start your timer when the contraction starts. Mark down the time when you feel it subside. That first number is the duration of your contractions. Then mark down the time when your next contraction starts. The time that elapsed between the beginning of the first contraction to the beginning of the second contraction is characterized as the time between contractions.
If you are looking for a birth doula in Skagit Valley or in Whatcom County, we would love to chat further. We also offer birth classes in Skagit Valley and Whatcom County where we dive into greater detail around what to do when labor starts and how to time contractions.
Author, Kristina McMurtrey, is a passionate doula who aims to see families supported regardless of their unique way of navigating pregnancy, birth and parenting.
North Cascade Doulas provides care for families looking for Labor Doulas, Placenta Encapsulation and Childbirth Education Classes. We support all parenting philosophies and birth plans.
We specialize in :
(natural) unmedicated birth / (surgical) cesarean birth / epidural birth / induction / planned induction / planned cesarean / VBAC / TOLAC / waterbirth / multiples / breastfeeding / bottle feeding / formula feeding / NICU / PPD / PPMD / bed rest / high risk / low risk / advanced maternal age / miscarriage / IVF / and more.
Areas we Serve:
We serve Whatcom and Skagit Counties and the neighborhoods of Alger / Anacortes / Bellingham / Big Lake / Birch Bay / Blaine / Bow / Burlington / Clear Lake / Custer / Everson / Ferndale / Glen Haven / La Conner / Laurel / Lynden / Mount Vernon / Sedro Woolley / Sudden Valley