The birth experience
Regardless of the nature of the experience, giving birth changes you. It is an intimate, personal journey that thrusts you into motherhood. It is a journey unique to each woman but one which you should aptly prepare for. Reading about your options for giving birth allows you to make informed decisions during show time and before, and helps you feel, as much as possible, in control. This article will provide an outline on all you need to know about birth.
Stages of Childbirth
As has already been noted, the experience of childbirth is unique to every woman. Nonetheless, knowing about its three basic stages will help you track where you are in the process
First stage of labor
This stage is the longest of the three and in turn involves three phases. Early labor is when labor starts and the cervix opens up to 3cm. Active Labor continues from 3cm dilation until the cervix is at 7cm, at which point the Transition Phase kicks in. This can be regarded as the most intensive part of labor as it sees the cervix fully dilate to 10cm. During early labor, contractions will last about 30-45 seconds, with a 5 to 30 minute rest period between each contraction. It is best if you stay active by doing light activities around the house or going for a walk. Once your contractions are lasting around 45 to 60 seconds with only 3 to 5 minutes of rest in between, it is time to head to the hospital as this means you’re in the active phase of labor.
Second stage of labor
The second stage of labor starts once your cervix is dilated to 10cm, up to the delivery of your baby. It is here time to help your body by pushing. The second stage usually lasts from 20 minutes to 2 hours, with less time if this is not your first vaginal delivery. This stage is characterized by a strong urge to push and pressure in your rectal area. Once your baby’s head is visible, this is known as crowning and it is here that you will feel a stinging burning sensation.
Third stage of labor
The third stage of labor is normally the shortest stage and involves the delivery of the placenta. This usually takes between 5 to 30 minutes. Smaller contractions continue after the birth of your baby and this signals the separation of the placenta from the uterine wall, ready for delivery. Following this stage, you will continue to be monitored to ensure that the uterus is contracting well and that there is no excessive bleeding.
What does childbirth feel like?
The experience of childbirth and how it feels differs for every woman as pain thresholds are also unique. Unfortunately, the only way to really know what it’s like is to experience it. If you’re a first time mom and eager to know what it feels like, be prepared to receive a wide range of answers. Every mom has her own story to tell. Answers for this question range from ‘the pain was excruciating’ to ‘well, it was close to being completely painless’. Many compare contractions to very strong period pain, and comment how crowning can feel like a ring of fire in a place where no fire should ever be. The pain is not necessarily felt in the abdomen either; many moms experience back pain as well as pain in their legs, hips and the rectal area. The intense pressure experienced also comes as a surprise to many moms: the feeling is very similar to that of an intense bowel movement. In other – less formal – words, birth can feel just like a great urge to poop. Time and birth also have a strange relationship: many moms recall how time lost all meaning and the whole birthing process was like an out of body experience.
Will I really poop during labor?
Many moms’ fear of pooping during labor is on par with pushing the baby out. This is quite a taboo subject, but in reality, pooping during labor is more common than you might think! So relax, this should be one of your most minor worries: midwives and OBGYNs are well accustomed to witnessing this. Concerns about having a bowel movement in the pushing stage can limit you from pushing effectively, possibly prolonging the pushing stage. Ideally, you should go with the flow of your body, and not let the prospect of this inhibit you.
Tears during labor
Tears during labor are a very common fact of childbirth and more common amongst first time moms. In fact, first time mothers have a 95% chance of tearing during delivery. Most tears occur in the perineum, the area between your vagina and anus. Contrary to episiotomies, vaginal tears are spontaneous and happen when the baby is being pushed out, rather than a cut made by a doctor. During delivery, your vagina has to stretch out to allow the baby to pass; count yourself amongst the lucky ones if this happens without any tears, cuts or lacerations. Factors such as an extremely fast birth, being overweight, or having a vacuum or forceps-assisted delivery increases the chances of tears.
Pain relief during labor
Pain relief during labor can be medicalized and non-medicalised. Medicalised options include analgesics, which reduce pain without completely blocking it and anesthetics which can block all pain and feeling.
An anesthetic is injected between the vertebrae in your lower back via a thin flexible tube (a catheter). Nerves that transmit pain signals from the uterus and vagina pass through here and an epidural numbs these nerves, making contractions less intense and painful. Epidural pain relief is administered by an anesthetist. Following its administration, your legs may feel weak and your abdomen may feel numb. Whilst being the most effective type of pain relief during labor and delivery, epidurals do have some disadvantages, namely a need for closer monitoring of you and the baby, and being confined to your bed during labor. Possible side effects can include fever, itching, as well as a slight chance for bad headaches in the days after delivery.
A spinal block is also a shot administered in the lower back and can be used before a c-section or vaginal birth. Its side effects are similar to that of an epidural.
Pethidine is widely used to provide pain relief in labor and is given via an injection into the muscle in the buttock or upper leg. It provides relaxation and helps you better cope with the pain. Since it can act as a muscle relaxant, in some cases it can also lead the cervix to dilate faster. As pethidine crosses the placenta, it also enters the baby’s bloodstream and can make the baby drowsy, possibly also causing reduced fetal movement. Potential side effects for you include nausea, headache, and dizziness.
Gas and Air
Medically known as Entonox, gas and air is an odorless gas made up of half oxygen and half nitrous oxide. It does not block labor pain, but it can make it more bearable by taking the edge off it. It can also make you feel light headed and giggly, hence why many refer to it as ‘laughing gas’. Gas and air is a very popular method of pain relief; around 80% of women use it during labor.
Practices such as Lamaze, Hypnobirthing, the Bradley Method, and other methods such as walking, massage, relaxation techniques, visualizations and the use of water, are all natural pain relief options which you may wish to make use of.
Birth is a Pandora’s box and unfortunately, complications may arise. Whilst there is no reason to alarm yourself, it helps to be informed beforehand of any issues that may come about.
Fetal Distress during labor sounds scary but there are plenty of remedies available for use by OBGYNs to still ensure a successful outcome. When this term is used it often means that the fetal heart rate is slow or is not returning to normal following a contraction. If you’re already fully dilated and the baby’s head is low, forceps or a vacuum extractor can be used to deliver the baby quickly. If this is not possible, a cesarean section will be carried out.
Meconium Aspiration Syndrome
This happens when your baby inhales meconium present in the amniotic fluid. Meconium is your baby’s first poop. When this happens before delivery and the baby inhales it, it can affect the baby’s breathing. The severity of the situation depends on the amount of meconium the baby has inhaled, but normally only a little breathing support is required for recovery.
If the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck, the baby’s heart rate can go down. If the heart rate does not recover following a contraction, it can mean that the cord is wrapped too tightly and that intervention is necessary. In this case, a forceps or vacuum assisted delivery may be necessary. In the case that the baby is still too high, a c-section is performed.
This condition is not easy to diagnose as other factors, including a halt in cervical dilation, can be a reason behind ‘failure to progress’. When cephalopelvic disproportion is present, the baby’s head is too big to pass through the pelvis. A c-section is then carried out.
In a normal presentation, your baby is head down, facing your back, with its chin tucked and low in your uterus. Cases where the baby is not presenting this way may lead to prolonged and more painful labor as well as an increased risk for complications.
Induction of Labor
An induction of labor is when labor is started through medical means rather than left to start naturally. It is a procedure used to stimulate uterine contractions during pregnancy leading to labor and, when successful, a vaginal birth. There are various reasons why an induction might be recommended but this is primarily done when the baby’s or the mother’s health is thought to be at risk. Inducing labor carries risks and may heighten the need for a c-section.
Artificial Rupture of Membranes
Your baby has been nestled in amniotic fluid for nine months and the sac that holds it may break naturally before or during labor or after the baby is born. There have also been instances where babies arrived earth side in an intact amniotic sac. In many instances though, it is the midwife or obstetrician who breaks the water and this is called artificial rupture of membranes. This can be done to give labour a boost when it has stalled, to induce labor, to permit a forceps or vacuum assisted delivery or to see if your baby has passed meconium and is at risk.
A c-section birth is when a baby is delivered through a surgical procedure. A surgical incision is made in your abdomen and uterus to deliver your baby. A c-section can be either planned in advance or a result of a birth complication which leads to an emergency c-section. Today, 32.0% of deliveries in the US are c-section births.
An elective c section is when a c-section is planned in advance for non-medical reasons. Some women prefer this method of delivery over natural birth due to more scheduling certainty and a belief that this would minimize the pain associated with labor. Whilst scheduling your baby’s birth may give you more control, there are also more risks involved, especially if you intend to have more than one child via the same procedure. A c-section is a major surgery: recovery time is usually longer than that attributed to a vaginal birth. Most healthcare professionals assert that c-sections should only be carried out when medically necessary.
Medical reasons for a C-section
A c-section may be scheduled by your doctor in advance if, amongst others: your baby is in breech position; birth defects have been diagnosed; you’ve already had a cesarean birth; you have a chronic health condition; placenta issues have been identified; or if you’re carrying multiples.
Prolonged labor, abnormal positioning, fetal distress, cord prolapse, and cephalopelvic disproportion can all be reasons why an emergency c-section might be needed.
A number of hospitals are now offering ‘gentle c-sections’ or ‘family-centered c-sections’. This involves a number of changes to the usual c-section procedure to ensure that you and your partner feel more at one with the birth. An advantage of a gentle cesarean is that you get to see your baby’s birth and feel more involved in it.
Regardless of these observations, your birth experience is dependable on a wide range of factors, but a major one is in fact you, and how you perceive the birth. Being prepared, both physically and mentally, definitely helps.