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Stages of labour

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From early labour to afterbirth

Everyone knows that labour can be, well, hard labour! But by equipping yourself with an understanding of the different stages and the process of labour, you'll know exactly what's going on and be able to recognise your progress towards meeting your little one. So, how many labour stages actually exist?

Labour is divided into three stages. Get through these and you can get through anything!

The first stage: Early and established labour

Early signs of labour can include things like cramping, back pain and tell-tale signs like your waters breaking. Early labour (or the latent phase) is when your cervix dilates to 3cm. You might feel irregular cramping and it can last anywhere from 6 hours to a couple of days – it sounds like a long time, but don't be scared! These mild contractions may go away or will continue to slowly increase until you're in established labour.

In established labour (or active labour), your cervix continues to dilate from 3cm to fully dilated (10cm) ... you'll know when you can't talk through your contractions anymore! Pushing isn't needed just yet, so instead, try to move around as much as you can. Remember to go to the loo regularly during labour to empty your bladder. Your bub doesn't need anything in his way during his descent down the birth canal!

If you're hoping for an epidural or morphine, the time to ask is before you reach 8cm dilated. After this, policy won't allow it. This is because most of the time, you'll deliver within 2 hours and if morphine is given, baby will be at the height of the effects. As for an epidural, by the time it takes effect your baby will be out! Just remember that while it can be a godsend for easing the pain, it can also slow down labour as your urge to push disappears. If you're keen for a natural birth, gas and air can help keep you calm, as will any breathing, meditation or hypno-birthing techniques.

Stages of labour

The transition: 8-10cm dilated

Woah, contractions! They're very close together now and getting stronger too. Transition is the hardest part of labour and is when it all starts to happen. Your cervix dilates to the 10cm needed to move onto pushing. You may start to feel like you need to do a number 2 but don't worry, this is normal – it's baby's head moving down further.

The second stage: Start pushing!

Here we go mum, it's time for baby to arrive. You'll have a tiny bit of time to recover between contractions, but there's a constant urge to push now. Once that little head starts to appear (called 'crowning' – you will feel some stinging or burning), your midwife will give you instructions on how to control your pushes to prevent tearing.

At this stage (if it hasn't already happened) the doctor or midwife may break your waters. It's so important to follow their instructions because the second stage of labour is very tiring for you and baby, so if it goes on for too long you may need some help.

The third stage: After the birth

Once you get to this final stage of labour, your baby will already be born! Now it's time to deliver the placenta and membranes, but you'll be so in love with your bubba that sometimes this stage is all a blur. Breast feeding straight away can help the placenta come away naturally, but otherwise the doctors and midwives will have things under control. They'll also monitor any blood loss as well as your health to make sure everything's ok, so that you can enjoy those first skin-to-skin moments with your baby.

Wondering what the first signs of impending labour are?

Make sure you read up on those here too...

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