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labor & delivery

Labor

Labor: The process that moves the baby into the birth canal

Labor is a physical process that requires a lot of energy from you. Your uterus contracts or tightens, causing the cervix to open. The ongoing muscle contractions cause the baby to move into the birth canal. Most women find the contractions painful, which is why the contractions are called labor pains. The actual birth of the baby is called delivery.

Average length of labor for a first-time mother: 14 hours
Average length of labor for later births: 8 hours

Signs of labor

  • Lightening is a feeling that occurs when the baby settles into the lower part of your pelvis. People also say "the baby dropped"
  • Cervix changes. Effacement is the shortening and thinning of the cervix to make room for the baby
  • Bloody show. The mucus plug blocks the cervical canal. As the cervix opens, this plug leaves your body. The pink-colored secretions are called bloody show and occur 24 to 48 hours before labor starts
  • Burst of energy. Many mothers are suddenly energetic in the few days before the baby comes. This is called the nesting instinct. Don't overexert yourself even if you have a lot of energy; you'll need it for labor
  • Water breaks. In about 12 percent of women, the amniotic membrane (also called bag of waters) breaks. This can be a sudden gush of water, or just a slow trickle of clear, odorless fluid. For 80 percent of women, labor will begin within 24 hours of the water breaking
  • Contractions that are regular, get stronger and last longer are signs of real labor

False labor

Contractions that do not cause the cervix to thin or open up are called false labor. These contractions are not regular; they do not get stronger or last longer as time passes. Sometimes the only way to tell false labor from real labor is to have the doctor check for cervical changes. If you have false labor and are uncomfortable, walking around or changing your position or activity can relieve the discomfort.

In this section:

Emergency situations
Creating a birth plan
Birth plan ideas to consider
Birth plan checklist
Preparing for labor
Phases of labor