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what do contractions feel like? December 6, 2009

Posted by guinever in : birth, labor, pregnancy , comments closed

3-womenFirst time moms all wonder what labor will feel like and ask their friends what does a contraction feel like? How will I know when I’m in labor? Will it hurt?  When do I know when to call my midwife or when to go to the hospital?

Some pregnant women are afraid of the potential pain of labor, afraid of the unknown.  An important thing to remember about these sensations  is that labor is a normal, natural process. This makes it different from any other pain you may experience.   Remember that contractions last anywhere from 15-90 seconds depending on how far along your labor has progressed. Then you have several minutes in between each of your contractions so it’s not like you’re in constant pain for the duration of your labor and birth.

The best thing to do is just to take one contraction at a time.

what do braxton hicks contractions feel like?

what do early labor contractions feel like?

what do active labor contractions feel like?

what do transition contractions feel like?

what do pushing or 2nd stage contractions feel like?

what do 3rd and 4th stage contractions feel like?

what did your contractions feel like?


what are the stages of labor? December 6, 2009

Posted by guinever in : birth, labor, pregnancy , comments closed

1127092138aPre-labor refers to all the contractions that you have during your pregnancy the last few weeks of your pregnancy before “real” labor starts. These contractions are know as Braxton Hicks contractions. Some women don’t ever feel these contractions and that’s perfectly normal.

The first stage of labor is the part of labor where contractions  open the cervix allowing your baby to be born. This opening is called dilating or dilation of the cervix. A further explanation of first stage is below.

The second stage of labor is when you feel the urge to push during contractions. When you push, you’re bring  bringing the baby down and out so he can be born. The pushing stage can last anywhere from just a couple contractions to over an hour and even more.  You might wonder how long it’s ok to push.

The third stage of labor is the time after the baby is born until the placenta releases from your uterus and with a final push, it is expelled.  The placenta usually is born within a half hour after birth, sometimes only a few minutes, but taking an hour or more is still normal as long as you aren’t bleeding too much.

The fourth stage of labor is the first couple hours after the placenta is delivered where mom and baby are getting acquainted and the uterus continues to contract so it can shrink. Breastfeeding or just interacting with your baby causes contractions to continue, which is necessary for this involution of the uterus.  Your nurse will rub your uterus and might show you how to do it.  This will hurt, but is necessary to prevent unnecessary bleeding.

first stage of labor is divided into 3 parts

early first stage

Your contractions can be between 30-60 seconds long and can vary from 5 minutes to 20 minutes apart and jump around a little bit til a contraction pattern can be established.  It is generally the part of your labor from 0-4 centimeters dilated. You can read more about how long it takes the cervix to get to 5 cm dilated or what does 2 cm dilated mean?

During early labor, the contractions might make you pause and stop what you’re doing, but they’re not very intense. It’s best to just ignore your labor as long as possible and try not to watch the clock.  You are usually very chatty and running around doing last minute things before baby arrives  in between contractions. It’s best to just go about your usual routine which could be staying in bed if labor starts in the middle of the night while your sleeping. As labor progresses, the contractions become longer and stronger and you phase into active labor.  You can read more about early labor in this birth story.

active labor

During active labor, you’re no longer chatty. You are quiet in between contractions, getting ready for the next wave. You might start to vocalize or moan during the contractions.  You might go lie down and get comfortable for awhile.  Getting in the tub during this part of labor will help you relax and help labor to progress.

Active labor is the part of labor where medically speaking, you are from 5-8 centimeters dilated. Contractions are at least a minute long and usually fall into a consistent pattern of 3-5 minutes apart, but even this can vary and it’s normal to skip a contraction once in awhile.

This part of labor is where you have to concentrate on your contractions to get through them. This is where all your relaxation techniques that you’ve been working on come into play.  It’s where you’ll probably ask for the epidural if you don’t want to go natural if you haven’t already asked for pain meds.


Transition is the part of your labor in between active labor and the pushing stage. It’s where your cervix finishes opening up and you become completely dilated so the baby can be born.  For most women, transition is the shortest and most intense part of labor, but not always.

Transition is the part of labor where you have the longest, strongest contractions that are the closest together. Women usually describe transition as overwhelming. Contractions can be 90 seconds long and only 2 minutes apart, meaning you only have about 30 seconds in between them to prepare for the next contraction. This is what can make it the hardest part–there isn’t a lot of time to focus and regroup after one contraction ends before the next one begins.

Emotionally, transition is a time of self-doubt and you need verbal encouragement from your husband, nurse, doula or other support person. This is the time where women planning a drug-free free birth wonder why they ever wanted to do that, but these thoughts pass and soon you start pushing.

I hope this has answered your questions about the stages of labor. Feel free to ask a question if something is not clear or browse the website for more pregnancy and birth articles.


if I didn’t dilate, am I doomed to failure the next time too? December 5, 2009

Posted by guinever in : birth, labor, pregnancy , comments closed

I get a lot of questions on my website from women wondering about induction. This comment from a reader is an all too familiar scenario. Her induction eventually led to a cesarean birth. She writes,

Hello. I was induced on my due date with my first baby. I was only at 1 cm, had no contractions, nor had my water broken. After I was induced, I was in labor for about 19 hrs. My baby’s heart rate kept dropping because the contractions were putting too much stress, so I ended up with a c-section. I had only reached 2 1/2 cm of dilation at that point. I do NOT want another c-section. MY husband and I want to try for baby number 2. I want to know what my chances are of not dilating fast enough before the baby goes into distress again. Am i doomed with bad luck in not being able to dilate? Please help me understand this!

baby-feetI’m so sorry that this happened and that you feel that your body failed you.  (((hugs)))  You are a victim of the  current obstetrical system that is quick to induce when it’s not necessary and when women are not ready for labor.  Your next pregnancy is not doomed and you  will dilate and you can have a vaginal birth. Make sure to choose a birth team who will “allow a trial of labor” and  attend vaginal births after cesarean–VBAC– or better yet, plan a homebirth!

Unfortunately, situations like this happen everyday in labor halls. You were induced on your due date. The due date is not a magical day when the baby needs to be born by.  The average length of first pregnancies is over 41 weeks if allowed to wait for labor to start on its own.Your body simply wasn’t ready for labor and the induction didn’t work.  You were probably diagnosed with failure to progress. It’s as simple as that.  Not every baby can handle the stress of a lengthy pitocin induction and will go into distress, necessitating a cesarean.

For next time, you can figure out if an induction is likely to be successful by finding out your bishop score or you can always  just say no to induction. One of the things you can do to avoid a repeat cesearan is to prepare for a natural birth.

To answer the question, am I doomed to failure the next time if I didn’t dilate with my first pregnancy, the answer is no. A resounding no. Each pregnancy and labor are different.


what does the cervix look like? October 7, 2008

Posted by guinever in : doula, health, midwifery, pregnancy , comments closed

Ever wonder what your cervix looks like? Or the changes it goes through during your monthly cycle? Wonder no more. My beautiful cervix has a color photo of the cervix for every day during a  33 day cycle.

You’ll see the obvious changes that cervical fluid goes through from the dry, tacky, non-fertile discharge to the clear, slippery fertile fluid. Note the positional and color changes of the os.  See the cervix during the follicular, ovulation and luteal phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle.


frequently asked questions about due dates December 11, 2007

Posted by guinever in : doula, pregnancy , comments closed

pregcalc1.jpgThere is too much emphasis placed on due dates. The due date is actually just an estimation of when your baby will be born. The average length of pregnancy for first time pregnancies is slightly more than 41 weeks long.

  1. How is my due date determined? Your due date is 40 weeks after the first day of your last period. It is based on a 28 day menstrual cycle. So if your cycles aren’t consistently 28 days, your estimated due date may be a little “wrong.” And even if you are regular, stress can delay ovulation.
  2. Are ultrasounds accurate for determining my due date? First trimester ultrasound is consistent for establishing due dates. The American Pregnancy Association says that the best time for dating pregnancies using ultrasound is between 8-18 weeks along.
  3. I didn’t even have sex at the time that my doctor says I conceived. How can this be? Sperm can stay alive for many days, so it is possible that you conceived several days after you had intercourse. Once you ovulate, there are only about 24 hours to conceive.
  4. My doctor switched my due date after I had an ultrasound. What’s up with that? Remember that due dates are determined by a 28 day cycle. If you ovulated later than what would occur with a 28 day cycle, your due date will be changed if an ultrasound shows a younger baby. Be wary of changing due dates based on weight or size of the baby late in pregnancy.
  5. Do I need to be induced if I go past my due date? There is a time and place for inductions, but most are not done for true medical reasons and can be harmful if the baby is not ready to be born. In fact, 50% of inductions on first time mothers end with cesarean for the simple reason that if the cervix isn’t ready dilate, it’s not going to open up and allow birth.

Dr. Bradley in Husband Coached Childbirth gives the example of an apple tree. Just like the majority of apples are ripe and ready to picked at a certain time, most babies are ready about 40 weeks gestation and are ready to be born. Some apples fall off the tree earlier than others and are perfect for eating, and a few babies are perfectly healthy a little early too. But some apples cling to the tree when all others are gone. If picked before ready, the apple will not be ripe and ready to eat. Some apples need longer time on the tree. Likewise, some babies need more time in the womb than others. Be very careful with inductions. You might force your baby to be born before he’s ready for life outside the womb.

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