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What to Expect

What to expect during labor:

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You will know you're in labor when you feel frequent and regular contractions—the only true sign that labor has begun. These contractions cause the cervix to shorten and open  in preparation for delivery.

When Should You Call Your Health Care Provider?

  • Your contractions are between 5 and 10 minutes apart.
  • Your water breaks, especially if the fluid is stained dark, greenish brown.
  • You experience vaginal bleeding.
  • You can no longer walk or talk during contractions.
  • You have concerns about your health or the health and well-being of the baby.
  • If you think you may be going into labor, don't hesitate to call your health care provider, no matter what time of day or night.

What Happens When I Arrive at the Hospital?

  • Fill out hospital admission paperwork
  • Go to the labor and delivery unit
  • Change into a hospital gown, or your own nightgown
  • Be examined to see how dilated your cervix is
  • Be connected to a fetal monitor to time the contractions and check the baby's heartbeat

What Are the Three Stages of Childbirth?

  • Stage 1
    Labor. This stage begins when the pregnant woman has regular contractions that open (dilate) her cervix. This stage lasts until the cervix is fully opened to 10 centimeters (about 4 inches). This stage can occur gradually with no noticeable contractions over a period of days, but it can also happen in just a few hours with very clear contractions. Every labor is different.
  • Stage 2
    Pushing and Delivery. This stage begins when the cervix is fully open and ends with the birth of the baby. The average length for this stage is one to two hours, but many women have shorter or longer experiences.
  • Stage 3
    Delivery of the Placenta. This stage begins immediately after the birth of the baby and ends with the delivery of the placenta. This stage usually lasts between 10 minutes and one hour.

What Is Labor Pain Like?
Different women respond to the pain of labor and delivery in different ways. For some, contractions may seem like strong menstrual cramps. For others, the pain may be stronger and difficult to bear.

What Can a Woman in Labor Do About the Pain?
Some women prefer to deal with the pain of childbirth naturally, using breathing and relaxation techniques, or along with a doula. Childbirth education classes can also help you learn these techniques. Most women, however, do get some form of pain relief through medication. There are several pain medications available that are safe to take during labor


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