Labour And BirthLabour and birth will be the most anticipated – and probably the most feared – time of your pregnancy. Soon you will meet the tiny human being you have nurtured for so long and you will treasure that very special moment forever.It is a very emotional time, partly because new mums never know quite what to expect. It’s very natural to have fears about what will happen during the delivery and you may be concerned about how you will react to the physical exertion and pain of labour.Every woman is different so nobody can tell you exactly what labour will be like, or how long it will last for you, but do remember that this is a totally natural process, and that millions of women give birth with comparatively few complications every year…and every one of us felt the same beforehand! By reading up and preparing in advance, you are doing everything you can to make childbirth a happy and safe experience.How will you know when you go into labour?There are a number of signs that labour may be beginning (note the ‘may be’…even midwives sometimes get this wrong!)One sign is a ‘show’

Which means that the mucus plug at the neck of the cervix comes out. This is a sign that the cervix has softened and become stretchy and flexible, in preparation for the birth.Another possible sign is the breaking of the waters…the sign beloved of novelists, as it can be quite dramatic…a warm gush of fluid. The Three Stages of LabourLabour has three distinct stages. The first stage of labour is the longest one, especially if this is your first baby, as it involves reaching the point where the cervix is sufficiently dilated to allow the baby’s head to pass through. Below we go into more detail about what the first stage involves and how it may feel.The second stage of labour is the pushing stage and the actual birth of the baby, but in between the first and second stages is the transition stage.The third stage of labour is the delivery of the placenta.The First Stage of Labour and ContractionsSo what do these ‘labour pains’ that we hear so much about actually feel like?

I suppose the nearest approximation is to describe them as being like severe period pains…but with an extra sensation of the muscles in the pelvic area bringing a ‘tightening and squeezing’ sensation with each contraction. Some women report back pain in labour, while others feel as if their whole pelvis is caught up in some extreme process.No-one can tell you in advance how long the first stage of labour will continue, nor how you will feel the contractions. Not only can this vary from person to person but also from pregnancy to pregnancy: it doesn’t follow that what you experienced the first time round will repeat itself in subsequent labours. The breathing methods you are taught at antenatal classes help enormously in getting you through the first stage, plus a gas-and-air mixture – Entonox – helps reduce the pain without adversely affecting the baby.

Pain Relief in LabourStronger medications, such as pethidine and diamorphine,can be used but they are not universdally regarded as effective and can have undesired effects on the baby if not given at the right time. Here’s the account of one mother: “My experience of pethidine was that it made me feel disconnected and woozy, so that I felt I’d lost control of my labour, but it didn’t really help with the pain, and when the baby was born she was too drowsy from its effects to feed properly. With the next baby I had just a little gas and air and with the third there was no medication at all, just the breathing techniques and an upright delivery.

The third method was by far the most positive experience for me.”It may be that you are offered an epidural anaesthetic during labour. This is a painkiller injected into the base of the spine, after the area has been numbed with a local anaesthetic. This is usually offered if labour has gone on for a long time or if a woman is finding the pain too much. It pretty much removes all the pain but it does tend to make your lower half feel numb and reduces sensitivity, so you may not be able to push as effectively.Some other methods of pain relief for labour include acupuncture, TENS machines and hypnosis, also known as hypnobirthing. If you are aiming for a natural childbirth, these may be methods you could investigate well in advance of delivery.What is most important is to discuss all these matters with your midwife and/or doctor in advance and to have a plan to follow when you go into labour.

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