Preparing your body, your mind, and your partner for what’s about to happen

Blue Flower

Monitoring your contractions during labor

It can be difficult to know if you are showing signs of true labor or if they are simply Braxton Hicks contractions (also known as false labor). But you can monitor your contractions to know for certain.

In the beginning, contractions might be about 10 minutes apart. Time them from the start of one contraction to the start of the next, and be aware if they grow stronger, longer, and closer together.

If you have not reached 37 weeks and you are having more painful, frequent, rhythmic contractions, contact your healthcare provider, as this could be a sign of preterm labor.

Your baby's body prepares for childbirth in notable ways:
  • A hormone surge, which might play a role in initiating labor, and could also help maintain her blood pressure and blood sugar levels after birth .
  • Your baby's head drops into your pelvis; this is called lightening or engagement.

The three stages of labor and delivery

Stage I: Early labor, active labor, and transition

Early labor can last six to 12 hours, and your cervix will open (dilate) to 4 cm.

Active labor can last four to eight hours, and your cervix will dilate from 4 cm to 6 cm.

During transition, your contractions will strengthen and get closer together, and your cervix will dilated to 10 cm, signaling that your body is ready for the second stage of labor.

Stage II: Birth

This stage can take an average of three hours. Your body is ready to push the baby out. Most babies are born head-first. Shoulders, arms, and legs follow, making birthing the shortest part of labor.

Stage III: Delivery of the placenta

This stage usually lasting anywhere from five to 20 minutes, as your uterus continues to contract to push out the placenta (afterbirth).

Managing pain during childbirth

Some of the most widely used pain-management options include:

  • Relaxation
  • Breathing
  • A warm shower
  • Walking during labor
  • Analgesics
  • An epidural
  • Other pain medications administered by your healthcare team

Baby delivery methods

As part of your final prenatal visits, you and your doctor will determine the delivery method that's best for you and your baby. Methods include:

  • Vaginal delivery — The most common method of delivery; first births last about 12 to 14 hours
  • Scheduled cesarean birth (C-section) — Based on your medical history, your health, and your baby's size and health, your doctor might schedule you for a cesarean birth
  • Emergency cesarean birth — Under certain circumstances, your doctor might recommend a cesarean delivery if vaginal delivery is not progressing or if there is a safety concern for the mom or her baby
  • VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) — Some women who previously had a cesarean delivery might be able to deliver babies vaginally in later pregnancies

Your recovery after childbirth

After your baby is born, you both will continue to be monitored by your healthcare team. Most women who deliver vaginally spend one to two days recuperating in the hospital. Women who deliver by cesarean normally spend three to four days recovering in the hospital. In either case, your hospital stay likely will include:

For the partner in childbirth

This day will be a memory both of you will share for a lifetime. Here are some things to keep in mind when delivery day arrives:

  • Be encouraging. She could feel vulnerable during childbirth, and might need your reassurance that she is doing a good job — especially when labor is at its peak.
  • Be humble. You have no idea what she is experiencing; do not attempt to lessen the pain of delivery by understating her discomfort.
  • Be patient. She might yell and scream at you or say things that hurt your feelings, so take it in stride and try to focus your energy in a positive way.
  • Be supportive. She might poke fun at herself during delivery if she feels awkward. Tell her she looks beautiful and you are proud of her. Encourage her.
  • Be respectful. If you choose to document the delivery, remember that you will watch this moment again. Choose your words — and what to record — carefully.
  • Be comfortable. You might have to stay overnight, so bring pajamas, a change of clothes, toiletries, personal care products, and books or magazines. Make a list of family and friends’ phone numbers and email addresses so you can share the good news.