Every expectant mother wants to know exactly what's going to happen, from the first contraction she feels, to the delivery of her baby. So, what CAN you expect?
First of all, labor is often a long process. On average, labor for a first baby usually lasts more than 12 hours. But it often takes less than 12 hours for women who have delivered at least one baby. (Go to animation full screen here;)
8 out of 10 women go into labor within two weeks of their due date, which is the 40th week of pregnancy. This means that most women go into labor somewhere between the 38th and the 42nd week of their pregnancy. Amazingly, no one really knows what causes you to go into labor. At the beginning of labor, you begin to have uterine contractions and your cervix starts to dilate or open up. But, since it is common for most women to feel contractions or cramps during the last weeks of pregnancy anyway, how do you know which contractions mean that you ARE in labor?
Contractions or cramps that usually DON'T mean you're in labor - are irregular in their timing, and don't get closer together or more intense. They often stop when you walk, move around or change position, and they're usually only felt in your abdomen. This is called false labor.
Contractions that mean you probably ARE in labor, are more intense, and after a period of time, start coming at regular intervals. Try to time them for about an hour. Each contraction should last 30 seconds or longer. At first, they may feel like gas pains, bad menstrual cramps, or a backache. But, they gradually increase in strength and get closer together. In most women who are in true labor, the contractions start in the lower back and spread around the front to the lower abdomen. They are usually not relieved by moving around.
Now, let's discuss some of the other events that MAY happen along with labor contractions. These events may happen at any time before, during, or after the beginning of your true labor contractions.
As your cervix starts to dilate, the protective mucus plug that's inside it loosens and falls out. This can happen even before you start to have contractions. You may notice a small amount of bloody discharge from your vagina when this happens. At this point, labor could begin in hours, or it may still be days away.
Another thing that can happen when your labor starts is that your water breaks, which means that the amniotic sac in your uterus has burst and released the amniotic fluid. When this happens, you will notice a watery discharge from your vagina in a trickle or a gush. Usually, contractions will get stronger after your water breaks. Your water may break before, during, or after labor begins. No matter when your water breaks, you should call your doctor.
Remember that labor is different for every woman. If you are having true labor contractions, that:
• are regular in their timing,
• last at least 30 seconds, and
• don't go away when you move around,
or if your water breaks, you should call you doctor.
You may be asked to come into the birthing center to be observed, to make sure that you are actually in labor.
If you are, you will be brought to the labor and delivery area. If not, your healthcare provider may suggest that you go home to watch for other signs of labor.