Easy Guide To: Labor and Delivery



Guide To Childbirth


Early Signs Of Labor
Does Childbirth Hurt?
Labor Induction
Natural Births


Birth Defects
Breastfeeding Guide
Postnatal Depression
Pregnancy Overview
Pregnancy Symptoms
Pregnancy Complications
Prenatal Care
Paternity Testing
The Female Body

Childbirth Guide

Stages of Labor
Early Signs of Labor
Labor Induction
Natural Induction Methods
Delivery and Childbirth
Epidural Injection
C-Section Procedure
C-Section Recovery
Home Birth


Premature Membrane Rupture
Braxton Hicks


Labor is the natural process in which a baby leaves the mother's womb and enters the world. Labor signifies the end of pregnancy. It normally takes place between weeks 37 and 42 of pregnancy, as timed from the mother's last menstrual period. There are 3 stages of labor (image) which in total take an average 12-18 hours to complete before the baby finally arrives (for a first pregnancy). Subsequent children usually arrive earlier after an average labor of 7 hours. If this is your first child, learning about the stages of labor, delivery methods and pain relief options available to you will help you feel more in control of the process. As with anything in life, knowledge is power. Have you thought about how you will handle labor? Have you familiarized yourself with the early signs of labor? If not, birthing classes are an excellent way to help prepare you for the experience ahead. You may even consider the services of a doula.

Early Signs Of Labor

It is often difficult to know when labor has begun. Sometimes false labor contractions (known as Braxton Hicks contractions) can fool a woman into thinking it has begun when it has not. Knowing the early signs of labor will help you work out the difference. For example, one of the first signs of labor is the passage of the mucus plug (also called blood show). You may also experience a sudden burst of energy, known as the nesting syndrome. You may notice that your tummy suddenly seems lower as the baby drops into the pelvic cavity. The next sign is more obvious - your waters breaking - this can appear as a sudden gush, or a slow trickle. Contractions start and progressively appear closer together and for longer. Many women use the 411 method for knowing when to contact the doctor: Contractions 4 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute, for an hour.

Stages Of Labor

Most women go into labor any time between weeks 37 and 42 of pregnancy. It it starts early, between weeks 20 and end of 37, this is considered premature labor. There are three stages of labor. First stage labor, usually the longest stage, starts with contractions and cervix dilation and the baby moves into the birth canal in preparation for delivery. The second stage of labor is the pushing and delivery part. Typically delivery can take about 30 minutes to an hour, although some women are fortunate enough to deliver within 10 minutes, and others can take up to 4 hours. The final and third stage of labor is after the baby is born, and the placenta is expelled from the vagina. This can happen within minutes of birth, or it can take up to an hour.

Does Childbirth Hurt?

Yes, unfortunately there is no way of masking it. Labor pain does hurt - some women describe it like severe menstrual cramps where the muscles inside the tummy seem to twist tighter and tighter during a contraction. Pain is caused by the stretching (dilation) of the cervix which occurs with each contraction. However unlike an injury which causes immediate pain, dilation happens gradually and rhythmically, so the pain builds up gradually, and then releases. During the breaks in contractions, there is no pain at all. When it comes to the level of pain experienced, a woman's expectation appears to play some role. One study examined a group of American and Dutch women who were about to go into labor. Both groups were given the same information about possible pain relief medication risks beforehand. Only 33 percent of the Dutch women asked for pain medication during their labor as opposed to 83 percent of the American women. 48 hours later it was noted that the American women had expected a painful birth and the requirement for drugs whereas the Dutch women had expected less pain and less need of medications. So how can you benefit? Reducing your perception of pain will help you tolerate childbirth more easily. One important way to reduce your perception of pain is to reduce your stress during the birth. Having a companion nearby throughout the labor process can do this. One study reported a 30 percent reduced need for pain medications in women who used the services of a professional doula (birthing companion).

Epidural Pain Relief

An epidural (image) is a local anesthesia which is injected into the spine to provide pain relief (analgesia) during childbirth. Most women take the decision whether or not to have an epidural pain relief sometime during their third trimester. Factors to consider are your threshold for pain, views on unmedicated births, financial/medical insurance situation (the average cost of an epidural is about $1200) and possible side effects. Statistics show that nearly 75 percent of American women choose to have an epidural during birth. See Prenatal care fees. Also, read: Is an epidural safe?

Labor Induction

When should labor be induced and how is it done? Generally, labor induction is only considered when the pregnancy is over 42 weeks or it may be considered earlier if there is concern for the health of the baby or mother. There are various methods for inducing labor, including some natural labor induction methods. Medically, the most popular forms of labor induction include: (1) Dilating the cervix with prostaglandin drugs or gels. A Laminaria stick or Foley Catheter may also be used to irritate the uterus and prompt the cervix to dilate. (2) Rupturing the Membranes (ROM), involves artificially breaking a woman's waters. (3) Stripping the Membranes, separating the amniotic sac from the wall of the uterus. (4) Inserting an IV and prescribing the drug Oxytocin (Pitocin) to stimulate contractions.


As cesarean sections (image) now account for 31 percent of all deliveries in America, it is worth reading about the procedure, even if you do not necessarily plan to have one. Repeat planned C-sections only account for 35 percent of all cesarean’s. The majority are unplanned and related to unforeseen pregnancy complications such as too slow progression of labor (dystocia), abnormal presentation of baby (such as a breech baby), or fetal distress picked up with a fetal monitor. See also: C-section recovery.

Natural Births

The decision to have a natural birth will need to be taken well in advance of your pregnancy due date to allow preparation. Waterbirths (image) for example were introduced into America in the 1980s as a gentler alternative to hospital births. A waterbirth can take place at home, in birthing centers or in some participating hospitals (who may have installed birthing pools). Alternatively there is increasing interest among women in organizing a home birth, mainly driven by the desire to avoid over-medicated hospital deliveries (in particular C-sections).

  Other Useful Guides

The Human Body: How it works, visual guide with diagrams.
Health Questions For Women: Hundreds of popular health topics.
Abdominal Problems In Pregnancy: Check your symptoms.

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