What is Labour?
The entire labour process and experience varies between each woman and can last between 12 to 24 hours, especially for a first-time mother. Labour is usually shorter for subsequent pregnancies.
Early Signs: Am I In Labour?
You may go into labour anytime from 37 weeks to 41 weeks gestation. The following signs are an indication your labour will begin very soon:
- A brownish or pinkish discharge known as ‘bloody show’ – this is a mucus plug which is released from the cervix before or at the onset of labour
- Contractions: Periodic contractions may start as early as several days before your baby is actually born.
- Water breaking: The amniotic fluid sac cushioning your baby in the womb ruptures and leaks out from your cervix and vagina. While this can happen in early labour, some women’s waters do not break until the 2nd stage of active labour.
During the early stage of labour, you will experience mild, irregular contractions about 15 – 20 minutes apart. These will gradually become more frequent and your cervix will begin to dilate up to 3cm.
What Can I Do?
If your contractions are bearable, you may continue resting at home or doing some light relaxing activities to cope with the labour pains. You should continue eating and stay hydrated during this period. There are various positions or breathing exercises which can help ease early labour discomfort. Head to the hospital if your contractions are becoming more painful (a contraction is considered strong if you are unable to talk through it) and occurring regularly about 10 minutes apart, or if you notice any vaginal bleeding or leakage of water.
From Active Labour to Birth
In the active labour stage, the cervix starts to dilate more rapidly from 4cm to 10cm. Your contractions will increase in frequency and intensity – occurring around every 5 minutes and lasting about 60 – 90 seconds each time. This stage may last as short as 1 hour or up to 8 hours for some women. Some women experience side effects of the intense pain such as nausea and shakiness at this stage. Your obstetrician will monitor you and your baby’s heartbeat closely throughout this process. When the cervix has fully dilated to 10cm, the doctor will encourage you to start pushing until your baby’s head and body emerges. This process may last for 1 – 2 hours. If necessary, your doctor may make an incision called an episiotomy to widen the vaginal opening and assist the delivery of your baby.
Pain Management During Labour
During labour, you may opt for medical options for pain relief, or practice natural pain management techniques to manage the pain. The most common agents used for pain management are epidural (a local anaesthetic which numbs the nerves carrying the pain impulses from the birth canal to the brain), gas and air, and intra-muscular injection.