Giving birth: An overview

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Information about childbirth and pregnancy and labour. Learn about natural labour and delivery, epidural or caesarean section.

Key points

  • Familiarize yourself with the signs of labour so you know when you are in real labour as opposed to false labour.
  • Vaginal birth, also called labour and delivery, is divided into three stages, although every woman experiences these stages differently.

This is it! After nine months of wondering about your baby, the time for holding them in your arms is drawing near. But first there is the issue of labour and delivery. If you are a first-time mother, this is probably the event that you have been most anxious and worried about. If you have had a baby before, you may still be nervous about the pain. Try to keep in mind that labour and delivery lasts for a day, maybe two. After you are done, you will have a most precious reward for your efforts.

It is important to familiarize yourself with the signs of labour, so that you will know when you are in real labour as opposed to false labour. Signs of labour include the following:

  • contractions that get progressively stronger, more regular, and more frequent over time
  • pain in the abdomen and back, which may also spread to the legs
  • release of the blood-streaked mucus from the vagina, referred to as the "bloody show," if it has not already occurred
  • rupture of the fetal membranes, causing a gush or trickle of amniotic fluid from the vagina

In some women, labour may need to be induced.

Roughly speaking, vaginal birth, also called labour and delivery, is divided into three stages. Each woman experiences these stages differently, and the stages may differ from one pregnancy to another. Sometimes the signs of each stage may overlap. Some women choose to have a "natural" labour and delivery without drugs; others may need the help of pain management techniques such as nerve blocks or an epidural. The baby may require fetal monitoring, and sometimes assistive devices such as forceps or vacuum extraction may be needed. Surgical procedures such as caesarean section may be required if there are problems with the delivery.

The more prepared and informed you are about childbirth, the more confident you will feel. Informed women who are confident about their ability to go through childbirth tend to experience less pain and have a better overall experience. Read as much as you can and, when the time comes, trust your body to do what it needs to do. Childbirth is a natural experience with a high chance of a successful outcome. Even if labour and delivery do not proceed exactly as planned, believe in yourself and your health-care provider to do what’s best for you and your baby.

Last updated: September 11th 2009