Reaching the end of pregnancy, we face the final and most crucial stage, delivery. This moment is on a woman’s mind from the very beginning and nine months later it comes true. On condition that both the mother’s and the baby’s safety are ensured, the primary goal in every pregnancy is normal delivery, which allows for a speedy recovery.
Normal delivery is believed to strengthen the bond between a mother and her baby, and is the ultimate and most meaningful experience in a woman’s life –in terms of tension and emotions. On the other hand, if there is even the slightest chance that the mother or the baby’s life is threatened, a C-section is imperative.
Labour symptoms are clear and obvious. If a woman is educated about this stage in advance, there is no way she will not recognize the signs. Most common signs of a woman in labour are:
- Continuous long duration contractions
- Vaginal discharge
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- Water “breaking”
Once these signs appear, the woman needs to contact her doctor immediately and rush to hospital.
Labour and pain
Given that childbirth is most times painful, there are certain techniques that a woman could use to relieve her pain. These techniques should always be followed in consultation with her gynaecologist. Most common are:
- Breathing and relaxation techniques
- Oxygen and nitrous oxide mask
- TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machine
- Painkiller injections
- Epidural anaesthesia
- Calm, self-control and no panicking
- Psychological support from her partner
Considering the fact that labour might last several hours, the expectant mother needs to know which of these methods are suitable for her. Ask information about the parameters of each option and decide along with your gynaecologist what is best for you.
What happens during labour?
Generally, normal labour has three stages: the stage of dilation and effacement of the cervix, the stage of birth, and the stage of the placenta being detached from the uterus and expelled from the vagina.
1st stage: Dilation and effacement of the cervix
The cervix has a zero diameter but labour contractions cause the cervix to dilate up to 10 cm in order for the baby to come out. The active phase of labour is considered to begin when the cervix dilates at least 3 cm.
In general, the period of time between the onset of labour and full cervical dilation is from 6 to 12 hours. Towards the end of this stage the woman feels the need to push after every contraction, but it is preferable to start pushing after the cervix has dilated completely and the baby’s head starts to show.
At the same time, the baby’s heartbeat is monitored with special equipment (Sonicaid fetal monitor, Non Stress Test, special clips on the baby’s head). In addition, if it is necessary, the doctor may choose to induce labour, which is performed by administrating oxytocin.
2nd stage: Birth
In this stage it is vital that you follow your doctor’s and your midwife’s orders carefully. Once you are in a comfortable position that will facilitate labour, you can start pushing. Your own body will guide you. Your partner’s support is essential in this stage, which is the hardest part, as you will have to push every time you have a contraction and this could go on for an hour.
The baby’s head will gradually appear at the vaginal orifice. Once the crown of the head is visible, you need to push slowly in order to allow time for the muscles to stretch without being torn. In case the skin does not stretch enough, the doctor makes a small incision (episiotomy), which is later sutured and heals after childbirth.
One final push and your baby is born. You can hold your baby even before the umbilical cord is cut. After the cord is clamped and cut, the midwife wipes any fluids or blood off the baby and wraps him or her in a special blanket. Delivery has been completed successfully and you can now take your baby in your arms.
3rd stage: Delivery of the placenta
Contractions do not stop with the baby’s expulsion. Right after that, more contractions lead to placental expulsion. This stage can last from 20 minutes up to an hour, but usually active management is employed by administering oxytocin with the mother’s consent.
Premature labour and Caesarean section
Premature (or preterm) labour
Pregnancy usually lasts for about 40 weeks. Most women go into labour during the 39th or the 40th week, whereas 10% of babies are born before the 37th week. Sudden water breaking, unexpected contractions and vaginal discharge are most common signs of premature labour.
If a pregnant woman shows any of these signs, she needs to contact her gynaecologist immediately and be transferred to a maternity hospital with special facilities, since not all hospitals have an intensive care unit for premature babies.
development of the baby’s lungs so that it is easier for the baby to breathe.
Caesarean section (C-section)
If there is the slightest chance that a woman or her baby’s life is in danger, a C-section is inevitable. C-section (planned or emergency) is chosen, based on certain factors, such as the expectant mother’s physiology, her medical record and pregnancy parameters.
The procedure lasts less than an hour and is performed using either general or regional (epidural) anaesthesia. After the procedure the woman will have to remain in hospital for the next few days, she will be in pain and she will have trouble moving, which is perfectly natural. Gradually, following her doctor’s orders, the mother will return to her ordinary routine.