Women’s Health A-Z
Labor & Delivery
A pregnancy is considered full term at 37 weeks. As your due date approaches, you may experience symptoms that indicate you are getting close to labor and delivery, and your body is preparing for it. You may have an increase in vaginal discharge and/or Braxton Hicks contractions (irregular tightening of the abdomen or uterine muscles often referred to as “practice contractions” that prepare you for the real thing). Your water may also break. When your water breaks, it doesn’t always come out in a huge gush like you see in the movies. It can be more of a persistent trickle. If you think your water has broken, it’s time to call us. You should also call us is if you aren’t feeling your baby move like it normally does.
Regular, frequent contractions signal the onset of labor, and it’s important to keep track of them so you know when to call your physician. When you have your first baby, you should call us when your contractions are five minutes apart for two hours. If this isn’t your first baby, you should call when contractions are seven to eight minutes apart for one hour. If you are not yet full term and you are experiencing regular contractions, you should call our office as they could be a sign of preterm labor. You may be scheduled for a labor induction if you are past your due date or if your medical history indicates that it is needed.
During the first stage of labor, your contractions will increase, which helps dilate and thin your cervix to make room for the baby. This is when most women are admitted to the hospital for delivery. As your contractions and discomfort intensify, you may feel pressure in your abdomen as your body prepares for delivery. Eventually, your cervix will become fully dilated, and contractions should be just a few minutes apart. During labor, you will have the option of having pain medication to ease your discomfort.
Once your cervix is fully dilated (opened), you can begin to push during contractions to move your baby through the birth canal. This can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours. A medical provider will help guide the baby out, and the umbilical cord will be cut. Congratulations! You can finally meet your baby! You’re not quite finished though, as you’ll also deliver the placenta and undergo repair of any lacerations that occurred during delivery. Then you’ll be able to bond with your new baby and start breastfeeding if you choose.
Cesarean Birth (C-Section)
Depending on circumstances, a C-section may be safer than a vaginal delivery. You and your provider could decide this before the birth and schedule the procedure; or the decision could be made after complications during labor, such as the baby being too large to pass through the pelvis or the baby’s heart rate being too concerning to wait for a vaginal delivery. These are just a couple reasons that might require you to deliver via C-section.
To prepare for a C-section, a nurse will clean your belly and move you to the operating room where you will be given a catheter for your bladder, antibiotics, and any other fluids or medications that are necessary. You’ll be numb during the surgery, but you’ll still be awake. Your doctor will make an incision across your belly and then across your uterus. They will then open the amniotic sac and deliver the baby. You won’t feel any pain, but you may feel pressure. You’ll get to meet your baby as your surgical team cuts the umbilical cord, removes the placenta, and closes your abdomen.
Unfortunately, complications can occur during pregnancy, labor and delivery. A medical team will be monitoring you and your baby throughout the process to ensure the best outcome possible. They will be sure to keep you informed along the way, and you are encouraged to ask any questions.