For many women, being pregnant is one of the most wonderful times of their lives. They enjoy everything about pregnancy – doctor’s visits to hear the baby’s heartbeat, ultrasounds to see the baby and how it’s developing, extra attention from family, friends, and even strangers. But as the length of pregnancy draws to a close, many first time mothers become very nervous and scared of delivering their baby. The whole “passing a watermelon through an opening the size of a lemon” begins to become very real, and they find that they are scared to death. Knowing what to expect during a vaginal delivery often helps to alleviate the stress many women feel as they come closer to their delivery date.
While every delivery is unique, there are typical progressive steps that lead to a vaginal delivery. Many women find that creating a birth plan helps them to mentally prepare for their delivery, although they must understand that not everything will fall exactly into place. But, one thing most women can count on is that a typical vaginal birth happens in three stages.
First Stage: Dilation and Effacement of the Cervix
The first stage is the longest stage of labor. Many women begin dilating weeks before they actually give birth. The cervix will begin to gradually dilate and efface during early labor and will begin to dilate and efface more rapidly during the active stage of labor. Many women do not even know that they have begun to dilate until they are checked by their doctor at an appointment. Other women are aware of their bodies beginning to change because they feel their contractions stronger than others.
Second Stage: Pushing and Birth
The second stage of labor begins when the cervix is fully dilated and ends with the birth of the baby. For women who choose to have an epidural, they typically do not feel pain during this stage but they will feel pressure as they deliver the baby. For women who chose to give birth naturally, this will be the most painful stage of labor as the baby passes through the birth canal. You will wan to have a plan in place ahead of time if you wish to have an epidural. As the baby is passed through the birth canal, it will exit through the vagina.
Third Stage: Delivery of the Placenta
While the hard work of labor is over once the baby is born, childbirth is not. Women must pass the placenta in order for their bodies to know that birth is complete. The practitioner will study the placenta in order to make sure that all is well and no complications have been found. Once the placenta has been passed, birth will be complete and women will be able to hold their baby for the first time!
Posted on behalf of Sean Lambert M.D., North Pointe OB/GYN Associates