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What is the labor process?

Updated: Sep 27, 2019

As we know, the labor process is unique to every woman. It is exactly what the name implies--- an adventure that requires time and dedication. For some women, labor takes over 24 hours, while others may take only a few hours depending on certain factors (such as having previous pregnancies).

Labor does not necessarily mean unbearable pain throughout the entire process---your body will go through stages. Some women describe labor as a marathon or a hike with an unknown ending--- some parts seem to take forever and requires endurance. Of course, this is not something your body cannot handle.

You may begin to feel contraction-like feelings even a month before your due date. This is due to your baby dropping lower into your pelvis. This is otherwise known as 'lightening'. While this may cause some discomfort, many women find it easier to breath BUT may have to urinate more often due to the pressure. At this time, you may also develop the 'waddle' while walking (because the baby sitting lower in the pelvis makes it difficult to walk).

A few days before birth, you will begin to see some physiological changes. You will feel what is known as Braxton-Hicks contractions which is almost like your uterus practicing for labor however ----does not mean you are in labor.

Your cervix during pregnancy is sealed with mucous. As your cervix becomes softer to prepare for labor, your body will shed this mucous. You may see some streaks of blood--- but there is no need to worry unless there is A LOT of blood---then you may need to contact your doctor.

Lastly, your hormones during this time period will cause your joints to become loosened in preparation for labor. This is why women are cautioned to some exercises during this time because of injury risk. As a result of changing hormones, many women may have some emotional responses such as nesting (cooking and cleaning the house) or some extra need for attention from loved ones, but don't worry--- this is normal.

Once you hit the point of being in labor, there are a few stages of delivery. These include:

Warm up- This can be days before and your contractions may vary in length and intensity. These include the Braxton-Hicks contractions.

Stage 1 (Latent) - This is approximately a few hours or a day before birth. Contractions will last approximately 30-60 seconds and will be between 5-20 minutes apart. This is when your cervix will actually start to open up but only a centimeter or so--- and will get bigger as the stages go.

Active Stage- This is 2-10 hours before the actual delivery. You will experience the most intense contractions that are about 1+ minutes in length and will be spaced regularly.

Transition- Occurs 1-2 hours before delivery and marks the transition from delivery preparation to the actual birth of your baby. Contractions will occur every two minutes and will last for 60-90 seconds each.

Stage 2- This stage varies in length for each individual. Some give birth relatively quickly while others take more time. You will still encounter contractions that are very powerful that occur every 3 minutes. This is to help move your baby out of the birth canal and into the world!

Stage 3- You will have your baby in your arms but your body will still need to expel the placenta, this will occur after delivery, approximately 5-30 minutes after. You may have some cramping but no contractions. Luckily, early breastfeeding helps with placenta delivery because baby suckling releases oxytocin causing uterus contractions and the expelling of the placenta.

Stage 4- Recovery. This is your time to be with your baby, rest, and allow your body to heal itself. You may experience some cramps at this time as the uterus contracts. It is healing and restoring itself to its pre-pregnancy size.

Hopefully this will give you a guide as to what to expect during labor so that you are calm, collected, and prepared for the big day. If you experience any abnormal bleeding or if your water breaks prematurely, you should see your doctor immediately to prevent further possible complications.

If you have any more questions, Mamas Maternal Health is here for you to help guide you through your pregnancy and beyond! Take a look at our website and see how we can help YOU during your pregnancy journey.

Until next time!

Mikayla and Cassie

Mamas Maternal Health Registered Dietitians/Lactation Counselors


Boston Women's Health Book Collective. (2008). Our bodies, ourselves: Pregnancy and birth. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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