Labour is when your body prepares to give birth to your baby. It can last several hours to several days. Generally, labour begins slowly, allowing you to become accustomed to the sensations that you are feeling. You can expect your contraction to become stronger and closer together as your labour progresses.
During labour your body will:
1. Soften your cervix.
A firm cervix helps to protect your baby in the womb. Called "ripening," hormones called prostaglandins help your cervix to become soft.
2. Thin your cervix.
In early labour, many pregnant people feel their contractions in their lower abdomen or back; however, contractions begin at the top of the uterus and move down like a wave. Your uterus is a large muscle, when it contracts the entire muscle contracts. With each contraction, your uterus works to thin and open your cervix by pulling up on it. The thinning of your cervix is called effacement.
3. Open your cervix.
For your baby to move through the birth canal, your cervix needs to dilate to 10 cm. The pulling up on the cervix by your uterine contracts opens the cervix.
4. Your baby will get into the proper position to be born.
Your baby will move through your pelvis best with a tucked head and turned into the right position. It is thought that moving around and using different positions throughout labour will help your baby get into an ideal position for birth.
All of the above changes happen together, at the same time. Once your body has accomplished them, it will be time for your baby to be born. Together, these changes to your body are called the first stage of labour.
Every pregnancy and every pregnant person is different, meaning labour may last a few hours or several days. If this is your second baby your labour may be shorter, but not always. It is normal for your body to begin this process a few weeks before your babies birth. You may notice Braxton Hicks contracts, painless, irregular tightenings of the uterus that help your body prepare for labour.
It 's hard to know when you may go into labour, so it is a good idea to be prepared a few weeks before your due date. Have your hospital bag packed, plan for on-call child care for any older children and make a list of contacts that you want to be notified when labour begins and when your baby is born. You will also need to arrange for your final prenatal visit with your birth doula and talk to your doctor about when you should go to the hospital or birth center.
Contact Family Doulas of Ottawa to learn more about how our doulas can support you through each of the three stages of labour and the most important stage, bringing home your baby.