The first thing every woman should know about giving birth, is that every labor and delivery is different just like every pregnancy is different. Before giving birth, it is a good idea to complete pre-natal or birthing classes to better prepare you for what is to come.
Perhaps the two most popular methods in child birthing classes are the Lamaze Method and the Bradley Method. The Lamaze Method teaches breathing patterns, and massage and relaxation techniques, and emphasizes partner participation. The Bradley Method encourages a natural labor and delivery without drugs. It teaches that a healthy diet and exercise during pregnancy are essential for a healthy birth.
It is also a good idea to have a birthing plan in place. A birthing plan is a written statement outlining your preferences during the birthing process. It can include the desired delivery location, who will deliver the baby, the desired level of pain management and who is to be in attendance for the birth.
There are three stages of labor and birth. The first stage is divided into two phases: early or latent labor, and active labor. Early labor is characterized by progressively strong contractions, with the cervix beginning to efface, or thin, and dilate, or open. This process can be slow, and often lasts from 6-12 hours with first deliveries. The length of early labor depends on the condition of the cervix before labor begins. If the cervix is ripened or soft, then early labor is generally shorter.
Active labor, sometimes referred to as transition, is when the contractions become harder, more painful and the cervix becomes completely effaced and dilated to a full ten centimeters (almost 4 inches). By then, in a normal delivery, the water has broken and the baby has descended into the pelvis. This is followed by a strong urge to push and enormous rectal pressure.
The second stage of labor is the actual giving birth of the baby. Strong uterine contractions exert enough pressure on the baby to guide it through the birth canal. Most health care professionals will have the woman push during these strong contractions for a quicker delivery. When the head starts to crown, or the widest part of the baby's head can be seen, the doctor or midwife will ask the woman to stop pushing and allow the gentle passage of the head so as to not tear or rip the mother's tender perineum. Once the baby's head and face has emerged, suctioning of the nose and mouth will allow for an easier first breath. The second stage of giving birth is concluded when the baby has been fully delivered.
The third stage of labor is the shortest. The uterus will begin to contract until the placenta is separated from the uterine wall. When this occurs, one or two short pushes will deliver the placenta. This is generally not painful. The placenta and umbilical cord will be examined for abnormalities or tears.
Shortly after the birth, the baby is cleaned and evaluated by a nurse or caregiver. If there were episiotomies, or tearing during the delivery, the doctor or midwife will begin stitching the mother during this time, normally under local anesthetic. The uterus will become hardened with continued contractions to constrict the flow of blood and allow healing to begin.
The onset of labor is different for every woman, and complications can occur during any portion of the birthing process. Because it is such an important and unique experience, it is wisest to get as educated about the birthing process as possible. This should help ensure the best experience for the mother, child, and all others involved in the process.