What Happens During Labor?

Many women are afraid of what their first childbirth might be like. With proper preparation and education, there’s nothing to be scared of. Even though it’s an entirely natural process, informing yourself on how to give birth and what happens during labor will make it easier for the whole family.

You have probably asked yourself, “how do babies come out?” and “what happens when you go into labor?” even long before you were pregnant. Knowing what to expect when giving birth will bring down fear to a minimum and make it easier for your partner and hospital staff.

We have explained more about signs of labor in our article, but now we will talk about what happens during labor.

First Stage

If you are expecting your first child, you can expect some backache and bouts of unpleasant contractions that might last a couple of hours and perhaps even days, before the real labor ensues. It is commonly known as the latent stage of labor. It’s the time when the cervix gradually dilates and is typically the longest stage.

One might be seriously convinced that the newborn is about to arrive, but soon see all the signs disappear and hear the midwife say it is a false alarm as the cervix hasn’t been dialed. This is a common occurrence with the posterior position (when the infant is lying with their back towards your back).

If possible, a mommy should try and stay home during this phase as they’ll probably feel comfier there. You can try to keep active during this period to take you to mind off the unpleasant contractions.

On the bright side, even though it is discomforting, it’s an excellent time to practice relaxation exercises and breathing techniques you might have learned in your pregnancy course sessions.

A back massage, a warm bath or a bit of paracetamol (no more than the recommended dose) can be soothing. Resting between contractions is highly recommended as well as eating properly. Once the labor begins, you’ll need all the energy you can gather.

Established labor is when your cervix is more than 1.2 inches dilated, and regular contractions are dilating it even more. If it starts at night, try to remain comfy and relaxed. If you are able to, continue sleeping.

If the labor begins during the day, stay upright and active, but only gently. By doing so, you are helping your little one move down into the pelvis and the cervix to open.


When to Contact Your Obstetrician

You should contact them:

  • If you are worried about anything
  • Your water breaks
  • You feel you need pain relief because the contractions are quite intense
  • The contractions are regular and happening three times during every ten minutes

If you arrive at the hospital or the prenatal care before labor has been established, the medical staff might suggest you go back home for some time. When the labor is established, your obstetrician will make sure to check up on you occasionally to see how things are going and to offer assistance if needed (such as pain relief). Most likely, you will be allowed to stroll around or get into a position that makes you feel comfy.

Your obstetrician or nurse might perform vaginal examinations to make sure all is well and that everything is going “as planned.” They are voluntary, so you don’t have to partake if it’s a bit uncomfortable, but your nurse or obstetrician will explain why they are offering them.

For the infant to pass through, the cervix needs to open approximately four inches. When that happens, the cervix is considered to be fully dilated.

During a baby delivery, the time between established labor to fully dilated it typically six to twelve hours. That period is shorter in second or third childbirth. When you come to the end of the first stage, you might feel an urge to push.

Monitoring the Infant in Labor

Usually, the obstetrician monitors the mother and the infant throughout the labor to make sure all is going well. They do it with the help of a small handhold device that allows them to listen to the infant’s heart every fifteen minutes. It’s quite a painless procedure – the mommy is even free to move around if she wishes.

There might be a need for electronic monitoring if the specialists have some concerns regarding you and your baby, or if you have chosen to have an epidural. The electronic monitor comes with two plastic pads that are strapped to your belly and, in some cases, a clip that is attached to the infant’s head. The contraption is called a fetal scalp monitor.

All of the above are attached to the monitor. The electronic monitor displays the infant’s heartbeat as well as the contractions of the mother. You have the right to request electronic monitoring even when there are no valid concerns.

However, such a monitor can possibly restrict your movement. If the monitoring pads were placed because there had been some concerns regarding your child’s heartbeat, that has later turned out to be fine, you may remove the monitor. However, typically, a fetal scalp monitor stays on until the actual childbirth takes place.

Speeding Things Up

Labor doesn’t always occur at the right pace – it can be a bit slower sometimes. If the infant is in an awkward position or the contractions are not occurring at the right intervals, a slower labor can happen.

There’s no reason to panic – if this happens, your obstetrician will undoubtedly have a couple of tricks up their sleeve. And those would be an oxytocin drip or breaking your waters.

Breaking Your Waters

In case things aren’t developing as fast as your specialist thinks would be right, this is the first measure they’ll take. More often than not, breaking the membrane that contains the fluid around the infant is sufficient to increase the frequency of the contractions as well as their strength. It must be noted that this measure can make your contractions more painful and feel more intense, so your specialists might may offer some sorts of pain relief that’s appropriate for the situation.

Oxytocin Drip

If the before-mentioned step does not work, your obstetrician will likely suggest using oxycontin (syntocinon). It is a drug that will make the contractions more intense. The drug is injected through a drip that is inserted into a vein, either on one of your arms or wrists.

The drug increases the strength of your contractions as well as frequency, which means it will be more painful. Again, your specialist will tell you about your pain relief options, and you will see what’s the best course of action.

In case there’s a need for an oxytocin drip, you will be placed under electronic monitoring so that the doctor can see how well is the little one coping with the contractions. Regular vaginal exams will also take place in this case in order to make sure the oxycontin is working well.

Second Stage

This stage of labor spans from the moment the cervix is fully open until the infant is born.

Finding a Position

Your obstetrician will help you find a comfy position for childbirth. You might want to squat, sit, stand, kneel or lie on your side.

However, squatting can be a bit tricky if you are not used to it. If you have experienced intense backache during labor, kneeling ought to be helpful.

It would be wise to try out some of the before-mentioned positions before you go into labor. Your partner can prove to be of great help in this matter. Talk to them so that you can both figure out how they can assist you.

Pushing Out the Newborn

Once the cervix is fully dilated, the infant starts to go down the birth canal en route the vagina, so to say. At this point, the mother might feel an urge to push. The feeling is similar to that of when one needs to go to the loo.

You can freely push while the contractions last, whenever you feel like it. However, for some, the urge doesn’t emerge straight away. Mothers who have an epidural might not feel the need to push at all.

For mothers who are giving birth for the first time, the pushing stage shouldn’t last longer than 3 hours. For mothers who are giving birth to their second child, the pushing stage oughtn’t last more than 2 hours.

To be frank, it’s hard physical labor (literally). But with a great partner and a qualified specialist by your side, the process will be much easier as they’ll be there to encourage you.

mother and baby

What Happens After Birth

Once the head of your little one is just about to come out, the specialist will instruct you to stop pushing and breathe in a particular way. You’ll have to blow out through your mouth.

It’s a necessary part of the process as it partially ensures the little one will come out slowly and gently. The breathing technique gives the perineum enough time to stretch.

The specialist might suggest an episiotomy. It’s a tiny cut made between your vagina and anus. It doesn’t sound pleasant, but it might be necessary in order to avoid tear or to quicken the childbirth. In case that happens, when everything is settled, your nurse will tell you how do deal with stitches.

Once the little one’s head is out, most of the difficulties are behind you. The rest of the infant’s body will come out during the next one or two contractions. The best part – you will probably be allowed to hold your precious angel immediately and enjoy some skin to skin time together.

The mother may nurse the baby as soon as the childbirth is over. It would be best for the infant to be fed within the first hour of the birth.

Third Stage

This stage comes right after your child is born. That’s when the womb contracts and the placenta is pushed out through the vagina.

There are two ways one can deal with this stage of labor:

  • Physiological – when there are no treatments to undergo and nature takes its course
  • Active – when treatment is used to facilitate the stage

Your specialist will walk you through both procedures either during pregnancy or early labor so that you can choose the one which works better for you.

However, it must be noted that, in some circumstances, the physiological method is not the best way to go. If that turns out to be the case with your childbirth, your doctor will explain everything in due time.

Active Management

This is another situation where oxytocin comes into place. It is injected as the childbirth takes place or right after it. The drug makes the womb contract.

According to empirical data, it is best not to cut the umbilical cord right away. The doctor will wait a couple of minutes after birth to cut it.

If there are some concerns regarding your or your child’s wellbeing, it will happen sooner. If your child’s neck is entangled in the umbilical cord, then it will have to be cut immediately.

When the placenta is out of the womb, the doctor or nurse will pull the umbilical cord (it’s attached to the placenta). By doing so, they will pull out the placenta through your vagina. This ought to happen within half an hour after birth.

Active management quickens the removal of the placenta and reduces the risk of heavy bleeding after the childbirth. Unfortunately, it does raise the chances of you vomiting or feeling nauseous.

Active management can possibly lead to more intense after-pain. Such pain is similar to that of contractions but worse.

Physiological Management

It’s when there are no drugs involved in the process – all goes naturally. In this case, the cord won’t be cut until it has stopped pulsating (until the cord stops passing blood from the placenta to the infant). Typically, it takes two to four minutes.

You may feel some pressure in your buttocks and contractions when the placenta has been moved from the womb. You’ll have to push it out on your own. The process might take up to one hour, but most likely, it will take just a couple of minutes.

If the placenta does not come out naturally or heavy bleeding occurs, your obstetrician will suggest switching to the active method. The switch may happen at any time during that stage of labor.


This all might be a lot to take in at once, but knowing what to expect during labor will lead to a more stress-free environment once the labor starts. Of course, it’s still going to be hectic, to say the least, but a well-prepared mommy is a superhero that tears down all the obstacles thrown at her. All of the worries and pains are a small price to pay for that first mother’s embrace of her little child and all the precious moments that will come after your child is brought into the world.


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