Labour and birth can be confusing and scary, especially if it’s your first time. Learning the early signs of labour is important to help you manage expectation as well as knowing when to go to the hospital or birthing centre.
Early signs of labour
Unbeknownst to many people, your water breaking isn’t actually the first sign of labour. In fact, your bag of waters can stay intact right up until your baby is born. Some babies can even be born in the bag of waters, known as being born “in the caul”, which is actually a sign of good luck.
If your waters do break, be sure to take note of the colour, as your midwife will want to know whether the water was clear, blood stained or green. One of the common early signs of labour is experiencing niggly mild contractions, which can sometimes feel like lower back ache initially.
Braxton Hicks contractions
If you’re in labour these pains will start to become stronger, longer, and more frequent. You’ll be able to tell the difference between them and Braxton Hicks contractions because the “practice” contractions generally slow down or stop when you lie down or have a glass of water for example. In some cases, you may experience loose bowels before labour.
Your discharge will also appear brown and bloody, also known as a “bloody show”. This is when the mucus plug that blocks the cervix is released, which is a sign that your labour is starting.
During the early stages of labour, your cervix thins and starts to dilate on average a centimetre an hour for your first baby. You need to be ten centimetres dilated before you can push your baby into the world.
When the onset of labour starts, it can be a very exciting time for you but you need to remember it’s going to be a long and likely challenging process. On the day, make sure you try to get lots of rest, maybe take a walk or a long soak in the bath, drink plenty of fluids and eat light meals.
Can labour start and stop?
Prodromal labour is when contractions are experienced but they don’t prepare your body for labour as the cervix does not change. These contractions come and go weeks or months before you enter active labour.
When to go to hospital in labour
You should have arranged in advance when it’s time to speak to your midwife, as this will depend on your own personal circumstances. If you go to the hospital during early labour, there is a chance you may be sent home to wait a bit longer until you are further dilated. If you feel you need to go to the hospital, don’t hesitate to ring your midwife and they will help you decide what you need to do.
A popular technique people follow is the 1-5-1 rule – this is when your contractions last a minute or more and are less than 5 minutes apart, but you have been experiencing them for an hour – in which case it is likely time to head over to the hospital if you haven’t already. Most of all be patient and calm, as you’re at the point when you’ll soon get to meet your son/daughter you have been carrying for 9 months.
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What happens when you arrive at the hospital to give birth?
Take your own notes and report to the maternity unit’s admissions desk. You will then be taken to the labour ward or your room, where you can change into a hospital gown or other clothes of your choice.
What to wear in labour
During labour we suggest that you wear loose clothing which allows you freedom of movement. You can wear a hospital gown, but most people prefer to wear a large T-shirt or an old nightdress (preferably cotton). Don’t buy anything too expensive to wear in labour, you’re probably going to want to throw it away afterwards.
You will probably be free to wander around while you are in labour, so you may want to bring extra clothing to keep warm. Don’t forget to bring slippers of comfortable footwear, socks are also a must as many people complain of cold feet in labour. The type of delivery you plan on having may impact what to wear during labour.
What to wear for a water birth
For people planning on having a water birth, we suggest you bring a bikini or tankini top to wear while giving birth. You could also buy a specially designed water birth outfit which can be found online, often consisting of a skirt and top.
Examination by the midwife
When you see the midwife she will ask you what you have been experiencing so far, for example how strong your contractions have been and how often.
After this, they will conduct some regular check-ups such as your pulse, blood pressure, temperature and possibly your urine. They will also feel your abdomen to see what position your baby is in and their heart rate.
Finally, an internal examination will be done to see how much you have dilated and how close you are to the birth.
These checks will be repeated throughout the labour to make sure both you and your baby are doing well and to assess how you are progressing. Your midwife is your main contact, if you have any questions or need some advice don’t hesitate to ask.
Certain birthing positions can assist in the progress of your labour, for example standing, sitting, or kneeling on all fours can all assist to help your baby progress through the pelvis, this is thanks to the magic of gravity. Other people prefer to be lying down, if you feel you need to lie down it is best to lay on your left side as this can again help you to progress.
Some delivery rooms have been made more homely and have birthing balls, stools, or mats for you to use. Some also have showers and baths available which can help ease the pain in the early stages of labour. Pick the one which is the most comfortable for you.
Some maternity units may be able to offer you a water birth in one of their birthing pools. If this is something that interests you, your midwife can tell you the pros and cons of water birth.
Some people find this a more relaxing way to give birth, however your ability to choose this option will depend on your local area as finding a free water birth pool may be difficult if there are only a few available. Read this blog for more information on birthing options.
Average labour time
For people giving birth for the first time, labour can last around 8-12 hours. For those on their second or third pregnancy, it’s often quicker at around 5 hours.
Pain relief in labour
You will be offered a few ways to help with labour pain symptoms. In early labour the best things to do are walk around, have a bath or you may be offered a TENS machine. Further into labour, you may be offered pethidine, an epidural or gas and air.
Pethidine in labour
Pethidine is administered by an injection into your leg or bottom. It lasts for a total of 4 hours and can make you feel a little spaced out and sleepy, it doesn’t take the pain away completely.
Epidural in labour
An epidural is a thin tube placed in the back in the spaces between your vertebrae. Medication is administered to make your body numb from the waist down. You will be unable to move from the bed and will need to have a drip in your arm. Your baby will also need to be continuously monitored during labour.
Gas and air labour
Gas and air are used only during a contraction; you suck the air in through a mouthpiece and it temporarily relives the pain during a contraction.
The different types of labour pain relief don’t work for everyone, some will work better for you than others, but this is something you will discuss with your midwife. Some types of pain relief during labour might not appeal to you but keep an open mind and discuss any concerns you have with your midwife and remember there is more than one option available.
A natural vaginal birth is the preferred method for any birth as it’s far safer and better for your future fertility. However, a caesarean section is a common and safe procedure, which could save your or your baby’s life if there are complications during childbirth. There are two types of caesareans: A C-section which is planned is called an elective caesarean section and the other type is an emergency caesarean section.
Here is a list of possibilities that would mean a caesarean is possible:
- Abnormal presentation i.e. Breech Baby
- Problems with placenta i.e. low lying placenta blocking exit of uterus
- Previous C-section (you get the choice with a 2nd baby)
- Medical complications
- Failure to progress in labour
- Failed induction of labour
- Failure of forceps or ventouse delivery
- Expected large baby 4kg or over
- Baby with known high risks or abnormalities
- Some STD’s
- Emergencies in labour – both maternal and foetal
- Multiple births (get the option)
You will of course discuss what is best for you with your doctor but there are things that can affect the decision, the following factors can cause complications:
- If you suffer from any medical conditions
- If you are overweight or obese
What happens after birth?
After giving birth, it’s likely that you’ll feel pain and discomfort. At Lansinoh, we’ve developed products specifically to ease this difficulty, with our post-birth wash bottle, relief spray, and cold and warm relief pad.
If you prefer to absorb information through videos, our team of birthing experts will guide you through postpartum preparation with a focus on you in educational videos.
Lansinoh are here to help you throughout your pregnancy journey and beyond, with education, solutions, and products to support you. We’re experts in breastfeeding and pregnancy, so why not read more of our informative blog posts on a range of topics, or browse our well-loved products.