What Happens to Your Body During Childbirth?
It takes about 9 months for a baby to grow full-term in a woman’s womb, and when it’s finally time for the baby to come out, it happens in different stages. It occurs through a process known as labor followed by delivery. Labor is characterized by continuous, progressive contractions of the uterus that help the baby move out through the birth canal.
It is a natural process that generally begins 2 weeks prior to or on the estimated delivery date. Every woman’s childbirth experience may be different; therefore, being familiar with the sequence of events that take place will help you stay prepared for the delivery process! Let us take a look at the different stages of labor and delivery.
Common signs of labor
Although each woman may experience labor in a different way, some common signs include:
- Discharge of small amount of mucus mixed with blood from the vagina.
- Contractions and uterine muscle spasms at frequent intervals signifying that labor has begun.
- Rupture of the amniotic sac, followed by leaking of amniotic fluid from the vagina. The amniotic sac is a fluid-filled sac that protects the unborn baby (fetus) in the womb.
How your body prepares for labor
Below are a few ways through which your body prepares you and your baby for birth:
Braxton Hicks contractions
These contractions are called ‘practice’ contractions that cause cramping or tightening of your abdomen to prepare your body for labor. They prepare the muscles in your uterus and cervix for birth.
You may experience them at about 20 weeks into pregnancy, if it is the first pregnancy, and earlier in the next pregnancy.
Changes in the cervix
The cervix is the lower narrow end of the uterus that connects the vagina and the uterus. As your labor approaches, the cervix softens and becomes thinner to prepare for widening, which allows the baby to enter the birth canal and pass through.
This is the process through which your baby moves further down and engages in a place above your cervix, getting ready for birth. You may feel lighter and have more room to breathe once the baby has moved down.
Stages of labor
During the first stage of labor and childbirth, you will begin to experience regular contractions, which allows the baby to enter the birth canal. It occurs in two phases: early labor and active labor.
During early labor, your lower, narrow end of the uterus (cervix) slowly starts to open up, and you may observe a clear/pink fluid discharge or a slight bloody discharge from your vagina. Early labor can last between hours to days, and the duration is often unpredictable.
During active labor, your cervix further widens from 4 cm to 10 cm, and your contractions become more intense, regular, and stronger. You might feel increased pressure in your back, cramping, nauseated, and you may feel your water break. Your doctor will perform some examinations to determine the widening (dilation) of the cervix. The final phase of active labor is referred to as transition and becomes even more intense and painful. Your contractions become more frequent painful, and you may feel the urge to push. You can get opt for labor analgesia like epidural analgesia.
During the second stage of labor, you will deliver your baby. This is most commonly known as the pushing stage of labor, when your cervix has completely opened up, and your body is ready to deliver the baby.
You get actively involved in pushing your baby through the birth canal at this stage. It may take about a few minutes to a few hours to push your baby out. Your healthcare providers and doctors will guide you through the entire pushing process until your baby is successfully delivered.
You will enter the third and final stage once your baby is delivered. You will deliver the placenta out of the uterus through the vagina during this stage. The placenta is an organ that provides nutrients to your growing baby when in your womb.
Once the placenta is delivered, the uterus continues to contract to regain its normal size. You may continue to have mild contractions, which are less painful, and delivery of the placenta may take about 30 minutes to one hour. Finally, your doctor will examine if you require any stitches for tears in your vaginal region and do the needful.
Although the entire process of childbirth may be stressful, you will definitely feel worth the pain, effort and preparation once you hold your baby in your hand! That is the miracle of giving birth to a new life!
Dr Padmapriya Vivek
MBBS, MS, DRM (Germany)
HOD - Department of IVF, Obstetrics & Gynaecology