First Stage of Labour:
The length of labour is different for different women and the first stage of labour is the longest part of labour lasting up to twenty hours. During the first stage of labour, the cervix which would have shortened and softened already begins to open and stretch. In the early stages, it opens to about three centimetres. This is accompanied by mild contractions which may go unnoticed or may feel like cramps or a dull backache. The contractions gradually become stronger and regular. The rhythm and pace of labour vary from woman to woman. As a rough guide for early labour, the contractions may be about five to six minutes apart and each contraction could last about forty seconds. Having a warm shower in the gap between contractions helps. Try to eat and drink at this stage before the active labour phase begins.
Moving into the active phase of the first stage, the contractions become more frequent and last longer. It also becomes stronger, building up to a peak and fading away. The cervix opens up to become fully dilated at ten centimetres. Controlled breathing helps during the contractions which come closer at three to four minutes.
Next is the transitional phase of the first stage, when the cervix opens fully and the urge to push down becomes strong. The waters generally break during this phase. This is usually the most intense stage of labour.
Second Stage of Labour:
The baby is born in the second stage of labour. The strong contractions and the urge to push began in the first stage. The doctor gives the go ahead to push now and the contractions with the active pushes propel the baby through the birth canal. There is a stinging and stretching sensation when the head comes through the opening of the vagina. Sometimes the doctor or nurse may ask you not to push during three or four contractions to ensure that the baby is born gently without tearing or without needing an episiotomy.
Third Stage of Labour:
The third stage of labour begins once the baby is born. Contractions still come, but they are weaker than before. These contractions help to expel the placenta out of the uterus and vagina. Sometimes doctors give an injection to make the placenta come out without any pushing. This is called managed third stage. The uterus contracts hard to stop the bleeding from the place where the placenta was attached.
The end of labour is exhausting but also exhilarating as you now have your baby by your side.