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Doctor’s POV: How To Cope With Each Stage Of Labour

Dr TC Tan | Published on February 8, 2023

Knowing what happens in the different stages of labour may help to reduce the uncertainty and anxiety associated with the process. There are also practical tips to help you cope with labour and hopefully shorten the duration.

Stage 1

You’ll start to notice the signs — your lower back might hurt a little, you may notice the passing of a pink mucus plug known as the “show”, or you may start getting mild cramps. This is called the latent phase of cervix dilation. There’s no telling how long the first phase will take but it’s best to contact your obstetrician at this point.

Time your contractions and log their intensity, via an app on your smartphone or an old-fashioned notepad and pen. When your contractions become more frequent and intense, you have entered the active phase of cervix dilation. Your cervix opens up gradually and when it reaches 3 centimetres (cm) or more, you’re in established labour. You’ll be offered pain relief options to help cope with labour pain.

What you can do:

  • When contractions are still far apart, take a warm bath or shower to help ease the pain
  • Move around before the contractions get more frequent or when the pain is not too intense. Gravity helps the baby move downward into position and speed up cervix dilation
  • Eat and drink in the latent phase to keep your energy levels up so you can push more effectively later
  • If you’ve chosen to use pain relief, don’t wait till the pain is unbearable before telling your medical team you need it. Pain relief usually takes some time to take effect

Stage 2

When your cervix dilation reaches 10cm, you are considered fully dilated. The contractions are reaching full intensity and you’re now ready to give birth. You will feel the urge to push, or if you’re under epidural, you will need to listen to your midwife’s cues to push. Your baby is moving closer to your vagina and ready to come out.

For new mums, this process shouldn’t take more than 3 hours and will usually be faster for experienced mums. Some women might only push once or twice; while others will require more time, which can be exhausting for both mum and baby. If Stage 2 goes beyond 3 hours, the baby is at risk of foetal distress and an assisted delivery by forceps or vacuum extraction may be required to help the baby arrive safely.

What you can do:

  • Push! Listen to the cues of your midwife or obstetrician and push; not from your throat, but from your bottom. You can also let your body lead you — when you feel the urge like you need to pass a bowel movement, push!
  • Your midwife will ask you to slow down slightly once the baby’s head is visible. This gives time for your perineum to stretch so it won’t tear as easily. Your doctor may also give you an episiotomy to protect your perineum

Stage 3

childbirth 101

Your baby has arrived! But that’s not the end of labour — your womb will continue to contract until the placenta detaches and comes out through your vagina. You’ll either do this naturally or if there are complications like heavy bleeding, your doctor may give you medication to speed it up. An episiotomy wound or any perineum tear will be stitched up by your doctor at this point.

What you can do:

  • Savour the moment and have skin-to-skin contact with your newborn baby — it promotes bonding between mother and child and has a positive effect on encouraging breastfeeding
  • Recuperate and rest. The process of birth can be exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure. Enjoy the moment and the endorphins running through your body
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