What is Labor Like

What you should know

First of all, a contraction is the shortening of the uterine muscle fibers. Contractions feel differently to each woman.  Most often, they are described as feeling like strong, lower abdominal, menstrual-like cramps, constant or intermittent low back ache, or uncomfortable pelvic pressure.

Throughout pregnancy, the uterus tightens and contracts to allow room for the growing baby and to help maintain uterine tone.  These tightenings (contractions) may be felt by mom when she changes positions, when the baby is active, or if mom has a full bladder.

Contractions can be felt by placing your hands on the top part of mom's abdomen (the fundus).  Let your fingers rest gently.  If contractions are occurring, you will feel the abdomen gradually get tighter-much like a balloon filling with air.  It will stay tight or firm for 20-60 seconds, and then, gradually relax or soften-much like the air of an inflated balloon-- gradually being let out.


Stages of labor

Early labor - the cervix is dilated 0-3 cms. and 80-100% effaced.  Contractions occur 5-20 minutes, last 30-45 seconds, mild in strength. Parent's are usually excited, relieved that labor is here and may feel  apprehensive, confident, and talkative. Dads can help by offering support, helping mom relax, encourage mom to rest between contractions.

Active Labor - cervix is dilated 4-7 cms. and is 100% effaced. Contractions occur every 3-5 minutes, last 45-60 seconds, are moderate. Parents are more serious, get down to the "work" of labor.  They may not tolerate distractions and may doubt their ability to get through labor. Dads can help by encouraging mom to change position every ½ hour, offer ice chips, cool clothes, suggest a shower/whirlpool.  Help mom relax and offer support.

Transition Labor - cervix dilates 7-10 cms. and is completely effaced.  Contractions occur every 2-3 minutes, last 60-90 seconds, are strong.  Mom will show the most intense response to contractions-nausea, hot/cold flashes, trembling, dependency, and urge to push.  Dads can help by helping mom find a position of comfort, provide back rubs, counter pressure, let her know you love her.

Pushing - average time pushing for first time moms is 60-minutes, but may push up to 2-3 hours.  Average time for moms who have delivered before: 20-30 minutes.  Contractions---every 2-5 minutes, lasting about 60 seconds.  May not be perceived as strong, as mom is pushing with the pressure.  Dads can help mom find a comfortable position in which to push and help her focus on the birth of the baby.

Placenta delivers 5-20 minutes after the baby has been born. This usually occurs on its' own.  Mom may feel increased contractions and pressure as the uterus clamps down to help the uterus separate from the lining of the uterus.  Dads can help by helping mom focus on the baby and try some breathing techniques used during labor.

It took 9 months for mom's body to change to adapt to the growing baby. The first few hours after delivery are important as mom's body tries to return to its' pre-pregnant state. The nurses will check mom frequently.  If baby is not in the room with mom and dad after delivery, dad can go to the nursery to be with baby.

Notice: The information contained on this webpage is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. The Expert Knowledge Network and Saint Francis Healthcare Campus assume no responsibility for how this information is used. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained on this page is intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment.