What to Expect During Your Labour

What exactly happens when you have a baby? Read our guide on what to expect when you go into labour.


Stages of labour

  1. First stage: contractions will start and your cervix will begin to open gradually. This is called dilation
  2. Second stage: you’ll push your baby
  3. Third stage: you’ll deliver the placenta


Stage 1: How will I know if I’m going into labour?
You will start to notice when you first go into labour because you’ll may experience 2 things. You’ll have:

  • strong, regular contractions. Sometimes these can be mistaken with false labour pains, called Braxton Hicks, but whether they’re real or not, you should still go to the hospital or get in touch with your midwife
  • a ‘show’. This is when a sticky plug of mucus with some blood from your cervix is released.

You may also experience:

  • your water breaking –not always
  • nausea and vomiting. This means the labour is progressing normally


What can I expect from the contractions?

Initially, contractions start off like period cramps, and then get stronger and last longer.

They may be intermittent to start with, but will gradually start to arrive at regular intervals. You’ll know your labour is progressing when your contractions last roughly 30-60 seconds and occur every 5 minutes. As you go further into your labour, they will get longer and closer together.


What can I expect when my waters break?

This can happen before or during labour. Your baby is developing inside an amniotic sac of fluid inside your womb. When it’s time for you to give birth, this sac breaks. The water may look slightly yellow, like urine and can have a little blood in it. But if you’re losing more than a little blood, or if your waters smell, let your midwife know.


Stage 2: How will I know when it’s time to push?

The contractions are gradually opening up your cervix, which is the entrance to your womb. When it’s time to push, your cervix should be about 10cm in diameter. At this stage, the baby should have turned around in the womb so their head is positioned downwards.


What’s a breech birth?

This is when your baby doesn’t turn to a head-first position and is born feet or bottom first.  This may mean you’ll need to have a Caesarean.


When do I start to push?

Once your cervix is fully dilated, the midwife will tell you to breathe and push. With each contraction, you’ll probably have the urge to push. And after every push your baby should be slowly moving down in your pelvis.

You may feel a hot, stinging sensation as your vagina stretches around the baby’s head. The midwife may tell you to stop pushing once they can see the baby’s head. This is so the baby is born gently and slowly. This helps your vagina to stretch gradually and avoids tearing. It may feel particularly hard to resist the urge to push, but you’re nearly there and will soon have your new born in your arms.


Stage 3: What happens to the placenta?
Once your baby has been born, you’ll need to birth the placenta. This is the organ that’s was feeding your baby in your womb. You should have a few moments to enjoy with your newborn before the second wave of contractions start.


How long does it take to birth the placenta?

It can take up to an hour to birth the placenta, but it’s usually much quicker than that. The following can help make it faster.

  • Start breastfeeding your baby: this can help stimulate hormones that cause contractions. It’s also a good way to get breastfeeding started.
  • Having skin-to-skin contact: this can also help stimulate contractions
  • Sitting upright: can also help speed this stage along
  • Try to relax or have a hot drink: after the birth you’ll most likely feel exhausted. Remember, this is the last hurdle before you can give all your attention to your new arrival!


What about after the birth? Read about looking after your newborn’s skin.

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