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What happens during labor?

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

Labor is a process that involves involuntary muscular contractions of the uterus that dilates the cervix or opening of the uterus to allow an entry for the baby to pass into the vagina and eventually out the birth canal and into the world. Labor is always the same and then again always is different. It is complex and unique to each mother that undergoes labor. Just like watching the sunrise...it comes up every day and is always the same but it is different to everyone who watches it, as it is their experience.

Three stages have been identified in labor: stage one in which the cervix dilates to 10 centimeters, stage 2 in which the mother pushes her baby out and stage 3 in which the placenta, also called afterbirth is delivered. Stage one has several phases defined as early labor, active labor and transition. In the early phase of labor contractions may be irregular and hard to time, in the active stage of labor mom has strong regular contractions every 2- 3 minutes lasting 60 seconds and is usually 4 to 5 centimeters dilated. In transition mom is very busy approaching the birth of her baby and labor is accelerated and very intense. Mom may feel some nausea, sweating, shivering, trembling or irritation. Partners may notice a change in her behavior or the  way she is coping with her labor. Luckily for her this stage quickly passes and it is time for her to do the work of pushing her baby out which is quite physical and requires her to conserve some energy during her earlier labor to have the energy to push effectively when it is time.

Although the phases and stages of labor and their sequence are all the same, the way each mom experiences them is totally different. Labor can be long or short, easy or hard, pleasurable or painful, lonely and isolated or a joyous event shared with partners and supportive friends or family. 

Labor is a journey into the unknown and different to every mom and may even be different with every pregnancy that mom experiences. Preparation for labor should include a discussion of what to expect with your ob/gyn or midwife, a tour of where you will be delivering your baby and first time moms may even want to take a childbirth class.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.