08:03 09 June 2009
After months of anticipation, now comes the moment of truth " labour. This article also appears on www.bbc.co.uk/parenting/having_a_baby
Labour begins when the uterus starts contracting regularly, and the contractions are getting stronger in intensity, and become increasingly closer together.
These contractions allow your uterus to push the baby downwards, and to pull the cervix upwards, allowing the exit point to get bigger and bigger, in preparation for your baby's head.
Most labours start off quite slowly and gently, and you may have several hours of wondering if this is actually 'it' or not.
Some women experience quite powerful Braxton-Hicks 'practice' contractions " these can really feel like labour, especially toward the end when you are waiting for the real thing to get underway. You can see your tummy harden, and then relax, and you may find it quite painful at times. It's not all that uncommon to be 'taken in' by a 'false labour' and to even end up in hospital and to then be sent home as 'nothing's happening'. Don't be embarrassed if this happens to you " maternity staff have seen it all before.
"...it's not uncommon to be 'taken in' by a 'false labour'..."
Bear in mind if you've had a normal pregnancy so far, you don't need to make a dash for the hospital, even if you know for sure you're in labour. You will probably cope better with the contractions when you are free to walk around, and to choose your distractions.
If you are in doubt, though, call the labour ward and speak to a midwife. She'll discuss what's happening to you, and give you advice on whether you can wait a little while or not.
There is a risk of infection if your waters break too soon before labour, and if your baby's head isn't engaged in the pelvis. The waters could bring the cord down as well (this is rare, but it could mean your baby's oxygen supply is compressed). Call the hospital if you are anxious about this.
Many pregnant women don't feel like going anywhere toward the end of their pregnancy. That's fine, but it also does you no harm to get out and about.
Don't be afraid to leave the confines of your home in case you go into labour. Just make sure you have a plan in case it all starts to happen while you're out.
This plan should include:
Have a warm, relaxing bath or find something enjoyable and undemanding to do " listen to music, watch TV, read a book. If you're in bed, try to sleep " if you can. Strong contractions won't allow you to do this, of course.
If you're in great pain, if you notice any loss of blood, if you feel sick or have a bad headache, or if you think there is any other thing happening that shouldn't be, call the labour ward and seek advice.
You will probably have discussed the sequence of events with the midwife who is likely to be there when you give birth. Give her a call when you are fairly sure you are in labour and discuss your symptoms with her. This will allow her to plan when to come to you.
The uterus is made up of a complex network of muscle fibres. When labour starts, these fibres begin regular contractions and relaxings, and with each contraction, the fibres get shorter. This pulls up the cervix and, at the same time, increases the downward pressure at the top of the uterus.
At the height of the contraction, the muscle fibres are at their shortest and the pain you feel is the most intense at that moment. It's like a very strong period pain, or, some say, like a belt tightening across your abdomen. Then, the fibres relax and the contraction fades away... but when the contraction ends, the muscle fibres remain slightly shorter than they were before. The baby is pushed down a little further, and the cervix stays a little wider.
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