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!
Photo credit: Renee Bergeron of Little Earthling Photography
I am getting real with you all here. I want to shed light on my personal experience, and it might surprise you!
I consider myself a pretty normal person. I love Seahawks football, breaking out and having a kitchen dance party with my kiddos and husband, exploring the beautiful landscape around us in the PNW through hiking when I have the chance and just being real with my people on the daily.
But this little piece of me can throw people off...
I am a birth doula.
Most associate the job of “birth doula” with a different type of person. Something along the lines of hyper spiritual, hippy, and more. And my reality is I just don’t fit that mold and yet I still LOVE MY JOB!
So when I told my community I decided on an elective induction for my second birth, it caught some off guard. This came as no surprise to me.
The thing about it though is that I was confident and empowered with my decision. I was dealing with PTSD from my first delivery and knew that a more predictable birth would help both myself and my husband walk into this new birth experience with confidence.
And you know what?! I LOVED my induced labor and delivery!
I was empowered to make choices for myself and I did!
It was intense though!
Don’t for one second think it was easy. I am pretty certain that from the time I was in an active labor pattern to the time my son was born was about an hour and a half.
I describe it as a tornado going through my body. But it was exhilarating!
I felt so incredibly powerful and strong! My husband felt confident and grounded. We never doubted our decision to induce.
In the end, we made the right decision for us. We took all the evidence based information into account and proceeded using our best judgement that made the most sense for our family.
This experience has greatly influenced how I treat my clients in my birth doula work. Bellingham, WA is somewhat known as an especially liberal, hippy part of the Pacific Northwest.
Many people assume that all doula care flows right along with that and that they will be judged if they decide to accept medical intervention during their birth with a doula in Bellingham.
This is the opposite of my approach. I go into every birth with an open mind, keeping the mentality that no one knows what is best for my birth doula clients other than the birthing person.
No one knows her internal experience better than the birthing person.
I remain unbiased and support. At the end of the day, it’s my job and man was I grateful that I was treated this way by my birth support team during my induction!
If you are looking for unbiased, non-judgmental support in preparing for your birth, check out our services. We offer a two great birth classes in Lynden as well as two birth classes in Mount Vernon. Both are packed full of useful, evidence based information that will help you navigate decision making through pregnancy, birth and beyond!
Our birth doula services are a great option as well! It’s always a great idea to have someone who is on your team supporting you no matter what choices you make! Contact us today! We would love to chat all things birth with you!
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