Childbirth - what are the signs of labor?

Childbirth is not necessarily a divisive topic, but it’s certainly a topic that garners much debate over the methods and choices that suit expectant mothers and their babies. Take the stories of women who choose to forgo pain relief for as close to a natural birth as possible, without actually going into the woods and squatting over a makeshift cushion of particularly springy looking leaves. Then there are homebirths, water births, and so many opinions and advice and ‘friend-of-a-friend’ tales from those who've been there, done that.

Whatever you choose, you need to prepare. Learning to spot the signs of labor can give you the time you need to scramble your chosen plans into action. Of course, the health of the mother and baby is paramount. If you’ve been researching, you’ll probably already have asked yourself things like how can you reduce the likelihood of birth trauma? And related topics such as what is cerebral palsy and what is Erb’s palsy? For now, let’s look at the signs of labor.

Labor - phase one (the latent phase)

This is the start of labor, where the cervix begins to soften to allow the baby to pass through into the birthing canal. The muscles will begin to contract for typically periods of tens of seconds before relaxing again. These contractions (known as Braxton Hicks contractions) are your body’s way of pushing the baby out of the uterus, while the following relaxation of the muscle opens the cervix a little further each time. You can expect these contractions to last for up to 60 seconds. When they come roughly every five minutes, your baby is on its way.

A “show” and waters breaking

There is a plug of mucus that seals the cervix during pregnancy. During labor, this plug comes away. You may notice that there is a pinkish color due to losing a small amount of blood at this stage - this is normal for most women. Next, your waters will break. The baby is contained safely inside a sack of amniotic fluid. When the baby is ready to make an appearance, this sack breaks, releasing the fluid (be aware that amniotic fluid is similar in appearance to urine). For most women, labor will follow within less than 24 hours of this happening.


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