Childbirth, also called labour, is the culmination of a human pregnancy or gestation period with the expulsion of one or more newborn infants from a woman’s uterus. The process of normal human childbirth is categorised in three stages of labour: the shortening and dilation of the cervix , descent and birth of the infant and birth of the placenta.
You’re likely to recognise the signs of labour when the time comes, but if you’re in any doubt, don't hesitate to contact your midwife. The main signs of labour starting are strong, regular contractions and a "show".
During a contraction, the muscles in your womb contract and the pain increases. If you put your hand on your abdomen, you will feel it getting harder. When the muscles relax, the pain fades and your hand will feel the hardness ease. The contractions are pushing your baby down and opening your cervix (entrance to the womb), ready for your baby to go through.
When your contractions last 30-60 seconds and occur every five minutes, call your midwife for guidance. If you’re planning to have your baby in a maternity ward, phone the hospital.
A "Show " signals the start of Labour: While you are pregnant, a plug of mucus is present in your cervix. Just before labour starts, or in early labour, the plug comes away and you may pass this out of your vagina. This small amount of sticky, jelly-like pink mucus is called a show.
It may come away in one blob, or in several pieces. It is pink in colour because it’s bloodstained, and it's normal to lose a small amount of blood mixed with mucus. If you’re losing more blood, it may be a sign that something is wrong, so telephone your hospital or midwife straight away. A show indicates the cervix is starting to open and labour may follow quickly, or it may take a few days. Some women do not have a show.
Other signs that labour is beginning include your waters breaking (rupture of the membranes), backache and an urge to go to the toilet, which is caused by your baby’s head pressing on your bowel.
Waters Break: Most women’s waters break during labour, but it can also happen before labour starts. Your unborn baby develops and grows inside a bag of fluid called the amniotic sac. When it’s time for your baby to be born, the sac breaks and the amniotic fluid drains out through your vagina. This is your waters breaking.
You may feel a slow trickle, or a sudden gush of water that you cannot control. To prepare for this, you could keep a sanitary towel (but not a tampon) handy if you are going out and put a protective sheet on your bed.
In many cases childbirth is achieved through Cesarean Section, that is, the removal of the neonate through a surgical incision in the abdomen rather than through vaginal birth.
Many women undergo induction of labour and childbirth. An induced labour is one that is started artificially and it's fairly common. Medical professional policy-makers find that induced births and elective Cesarean can be harmful to the fetus and neonate as well as harmful or without benefit to the mother and have established strict guidelines for non-medically indicated induced births and elective Cesarean before 39 weeks.
Many women choose to give birth naturally with no medications. If taken before and during labour, some herbs may bring relief to labour pains.
Labour can be painful, so it’s important to learn about all the ways that you can relieve the pain. It is also helpful for whoever is going to be with you during your labour to know about the different options, as well as how they can support you. Ask your midwife or doctor to explain what's available so that you can decide what's best for you.
Write down your wishes in your birth plan, but remember that you should keep an open mind. You may find that you want more pain relief than you'd planned, or your doctor or midwife may suggest more effective pain relief to help the delivery.
Speak with your doctor before using herbs to determine if they are safe for you and your baby.