Pregnancy Labor and Safe Delivery
Common Health Issues

Pregnancy Labor and Safe Delivery

While pregnant, you should definitely notify your doctor if you have any sickness more severe than a mild cold or stomach upset, or if you experience any of the following, in order to avoid any danger with your pregnancy:


  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Loss of water from the vagina
  • Severe swelling of your face, eyes, fingers or feet
  • Severe vomiting, dizziness, headache, or blurred vision
  • Severe abdominal cramps or pains
  • Fever over 37°C
  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Absence of fetal movement lasting for more than 24 hours



And now your time of delivery is near. The doctor has confirmed or adjusted your ‘due date,’ and told you approximately when to expect your baby. Approximately, but not exactly. How, then, will you be able to tell when your labor begins?


The new mother is usually worried that she will not recognize when her labor begins. To complicate matters, there is such a thing as “false labor,” which is sometimes hard to distinguish from true labor.



False labor consists of irregular contractions of the uterus, sometimes accompanied by the passage of blood-tinged mucus, and it can occur at any time during the last months of pregnancy. You will be able to identify true labor by one of the following signs:


1.Breaking of the bag of waters (the fluid surrounding the unborn child). This rupture of the membranes is indicated by a gush of liquid from the vagina or by a slow leakage. If it happens as the first step in your delivery (and it may not), labor pains usually start within a few hours of the rupture.


2.Recognizable, describable pains that are characteristics of true labor only. Though the labor pains may be slight, you can identify them because they usually increase to a peak and then fade away. At the beginning the pain is cramp-like and seems to be located at the small of the back. In a few hours it moves to the front. Even at first, true labor pains are regular and rhythmical, with a pain-free period between them, and are accompanied by a contraction of the uterus. When such pains arrive every 10 minutes or so, call your doctor. He will tell you when to go to the hospital.



Induced Labor

Occasionally, for the well-being of either the mother or the baby, the doctor may decide to speed up the beginning of labor. He will do this by rupturing the membranes of the bag of waters or by using a contraction-stimulating drugs.


Three Stages of Pregnancy Labor

The following are the stages of labor in pregnancy:

The Dilation Period

The womb, or uterus, which holds the baby, is like a large rubber bottle with a very small neck, almost closed. The neck (the cervix) is about a half-inch in diameter. In order for birth to take place, the mouth of the ‘bottle’ must stretch to a diameter of about four inches to allow for passage of the baby. The walls of the uterus constitute a powerful set of muscles.


At a certain time, the muscles begin to contract and force the baby downward. Gradually, the mouth of the uterus (the cervix) is stretched until there is room for the baby to pass through.


While this is happening, you will experience labor contractions. At first, they are fairly far apart and last for a very short time. As labor progresses, they occur more often, are more intense, and last longer. Being relaxed during the intervals between pain encourages the cervix to dilate more rapidly.



If you are restless during this stage of labor, walk around a little. The breathing exercises taught in childbirth-preparation classes also prove invaluable now. They help reduce tension, ease pain and give a positive feeling of control.


The Expulsion

After the cervix is fully dilated, the baby must be pushed out through the narrow and resistant birth canal. Here you can help by holding your breath and bearing down as though you are having a bowel movement. Even though the doctor gives you a whiff of gas to lessens the pain, you are usually conscious enough to bear down.


Many doctors routinely use low forceps at the last moment to guide the baby’s head gently through the opening of the vagina. This is entirely safe for the baby.



The doctor may also perform an episiotomy. Between the vagina and the rectum there is a strip of tissue called the perineum, which the baby’s head stretches and often rips in the final moment of birth. To prevent a tear and to protect the infant’s head from injury if the vagina isn’t sufficiently enlarged, many doctors cut the perineum.


Delivery of the Afterbirth

Technically, the third stage of childbirth is the expulsion of the afterbirth—the placenta and the umbilical cord. What takes place in this stage is virtually painless.



How Long Does Labor Last?

The duration of these three stages of labor varies greatly. A woman having her first child is likely to be in labor as long as 15 or 16 hours, although a period as brief as three hours is not uncommon. For subsequent labors, 8 to 10 hours is about average. The dilation period is the longest. The expulsion period usually lasts about an hour and a half for the first child, and half an hour for subsequent children. The third period, delivery of the afterbirth, lasts about 15 minutes or less.



Complications occur when the baby’s position is not normal and when, for this or other reasons, instruments or surgery must be resorted to.


Breech and Transverse Presentations

Most babies are born head first—the so-called head presentation. In about four out of 100 births, however, the child may emerge feet or buttocks first, in the breech position. This is not too serious a problem for the mother, but the baby can be hurt during delivery. Fortunately, many techniques have been developed in recent years to protect breech babies from injury during birth, and the doctor chooses the best one for each situation.



Less than one baby in 100 will lie crosswise in the womb—the transverse presentation. In this case, the doctor will almost always perform a cesarean operation. The doctor knows beforehand the type of delivery he faces.



High-Forceps Delivery

In some rare instances it is necessary, for the safety of the baby or of the mother, to hasten delivery before the head has appeared at the opening of the birth canal. The doctor will then reach into the birth canal and draw the baby out with forceps. This procedure has been almost entirely replaced by use of the cesarean section.



Cesarean Delivery

If for some reason, the baby cannot be born through the vagina—because the mother’s pelvic structure is too small or because complications have occurred—the doctor will perform an operation to remove the infant through the abdomen.



Sources and References

Reader’s Digest Family Health Guide and Medical Encyclopedia

Prediction of a Due Date Based on the Pregnancy History Data Using Machine Learning by Oleg Metsker et al

False labor by C W Schauberger

The Use of Cervical Sonography to Differentiate True from False Labor in Term Patients Presenting for Labor Check by Donald Brand et al

Anatomy and Physiology of the Female Pelvis: MR Imaging Revisited by K Togashi, A Nakai and K Sugimura

Cesarean Section One Hundred Years 1920-2020: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly by Clarel Antoine and Bruce Young

Labor Induction Techniques: Which Is the Best? by Christina Penfield and Deborah Wing


Rich Health Editorial Team

Health Research

Rich Health Editorial Team is made up of medical practitioners and experienced writers who provide information for dealing with health issues in a simple and easy-to-understand manner