While growing a baby full-term requires nine months, there are several stages of labor and delivery that occur over a few hours or even a few days. As a nurse working in labor and delivery, or even the emergency room, understanding the different stages of labor and what happens during childbirth is critical. Apart from helping you improve patient outcomes, understanding the stages of labor is essential to educating parents on what to expect.
Labor and childbirth are unique experiences for every pregnant woman. Sometimes, a woman can go through all of the stages within a few hours. In other instances, going through the stages of labor can take a serious toll on a mother’s physical and emotional health. While it is impossible to accurately predict how childbirth will unfold until it happens, understanding the stages of labor and delivery can help expectant parents prepare for it.
This Fast CE For Less article will give you a quick overview of the stages of labor.
The Different Stages of Labor
There are three stages of labor, with birth of the baby occurring in the second stage. The following is a quick review of the stages of labor.
First Stage of Labor
Childbirth begins with early (latent) labor, which is typically the longest and least intense phase. During this stage of labor, the cervix begins to thin, soften and dilate, occurring over a few hours or several days, and opens to around 3 centimeters. During this stage, a mother may experience mild persistent contractions that become more regular, stronger, and more frequent over time. In addition to contractions, cramps, bloody mucus discharge, and backaches are also a sign of early labor.
Women typically arrive at the hospital or birthing center toward the end of early labor. The labor will likely progress from early labor to active (transitional) labor at the hospital or birthing center. During active labor, the contractions become more prominent and frequent as the cervix dilates to 10 centimeters. Cramping pain often intensifies and is often accompanied by backpain, leg cramping, and nausea. During this stage of labor, contractions can occur every two to three minutes.
Second Stage of Labor
The second stage of labor and delivery is the delivery itself. In this stage, the cervix is fully dilated. For some women, the baby may still be higher up in the pelvis, while other women may feel the urge to bear down during contractions to push the baby out as they enter the second stage of labor. Depending on how high up the baby is in the pelvis, it may take a few to several hours of contractions until the baby is low enough for the mother to begin to bear down during contractions to push the baby out.
As the mother pushes during contractions, the baby’s head will begin to show through the vaginal opening. This is also called crowning. Once the baby crowns successfully, the mother can push out the rest of the baby. If the infant is too big or becomes stuck during this stage, the healthcare professional may make a small incision (episiotomy) to widen the vaginal opening to ease the delivery. Alternatively, a healthcare professional may use vacuum extraction to aid delivery.
Third Stage of Labor
The third and final stage of labor is the delivery of the placenta. After the baby is successfully delivered, mild contractions will help the placenta separate from the wall of the uterus and move the placenta to the birth canal where it can be expelled from the body. Once the placenta is delivered, it should be examined by a healthcare professional to ensure that it is intact. If there is a tear or episiotomy made for the delivery of the baby, any stitch to mend it will be made after the placenta is delivered.
After the placenta is delivered, the uterus will continue to contract to help it return to normal size. The healthcare professional will also massage the abdomen to assist with uterine contractions, which will help return the uterus to normal size and help decrease bleeding.
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