This is it - the finish line. You and your partner have been training for this event for the last 40 weeks and there is no turning back. Hopefully, you have registered in a prenatal class (aka childbirth education class) to help prepare you for labor and delivery. And if you haven't already registered, then you should as soon as possible since spaces always fill up early. Very few couples, who are of sane mind, decide to face the delivery room without any preparatory training.
That said, this article is not intended to be your sole resource on childbirth education; rather, it is only a simplified version of what you can expect. You may use this article as part of your pre-prenatal education program or as part of your post-prenatal review. However you choose to use this article is entirely up to you, provided that you do not use it as your only information source.
Labor, like pregnancy, is divided into three parts: stage one, two and three. Stage one is further divided into three phases: early labor, active labor and the transition period. Don't worry if this doesn't make any sense to you now or if you find it slightly boring, since everything will become clearer after you read this article and take your prenatal classes. That said, you should be forewarned that childbirth education is a complicated topic.
After all, it is about childbirth and the labor process is laborious for both you and your partner. To make matters worse, the entire labor process is long, lasting an average 12-20 hours. Really. While the average length is about 15 hours for the first pregnancy, labor actually gets shorter with each subsequent pregnancy. Whatever you do, do not use this little piece of information as a way to console your partner while she is in her 18th hour of labor - she will be in incredible pain and is not in the mood to discuss future pregnancy plans. Enough said.
Now, let's try to decode the stages of labor.
Early Labor - At Home (Phase I): This is the longest part of labor, lasting anywhere from a few hours to a few days. This phase will begin by regular contractions (which are different from the Braxton-Hicks contractions your partner may have been experiencing irregularly over the last several weeks as her body began preparing for labor and delivery). These contractions are the real-deal and will intensify as your partner's cervix begins to dilate. However, the contractions will be manageable and it is not necessary to go to the hospital yet. Your partner may also experience a small amount of spotting (i.e., blood).
Once this phase has begun, your partner should not eat anything unless her doctor specifically says it is okay (Note: Drinking water is highly recommended throughout all stages of labor). You, however, should eat and drink as necessary. Remember, you will need the energy to help coach your gal through all of this.
Your role during this phase is simply to help keep your partner comfortable and relaxed. Go for a walk, watch television or take a nap.
Active Labor (Phase II): This phase is generally shorter (about 3-4 hours), but more intense than the first phase. The cervix continues to dilate, bloody spotting increases and the infamous "water" will break. This is the time to call your doctor and head to the hospital. Still, there is no need to panic. Despite all the cliche scenarios depicted on television and in movies, childbirth is a slow process.
Reassure your partner that you are there to help her and that you are willing to do anything she wants. This may mean massaging her, feeding her ice chips or just leaving her alone.
Transition Period - At the Hospital (Phase III): This phase lasts a few hours and is characterized by intense pain as your partner's cervix becomes fully dilated. If your gal is going to ask for pain medication during labor, this will be the time. She'll be tired, sweaty and exhausted. Despite the desire to begin pushing, your partner will be ordered to resist, which will only make her more irritable. Your job is to encourage her to breath, relax and not push. She will only prolong the birthing process and cause undue strain on her body if she begins pushing too early.
Your partner will need a lot of support and, given the incredible pain, will not likely be nice or polite. Thicken your skin and be a man. Don't argue with her, don't try to reason with her and don't get upset if she swears at you. Just suck it up and continue to coach her through the labor process.
If you thought that the transition period was bad, wait until you get to stage two. The pain intensifies and the amount of blood increases. Fortunately, this is the shortest stage of labor and the most rewarding. Your partner will be given the green light to begin pushing. Listen to the doctors and don't interfere with this process. Just continue to support your gal with words of encouragement and within about two hours, your baby will be delivered!
The contractions continue for another 30 minutes as your partner's uterus tries to expel the placenta. Both your partner and yourself will be exhilarated as the reality of what just happened hits you. After 40 weeks and many hours of labor, YOU ARE NOW PARENTS. Congrats!
So, if there are any lessons to be learned here, it would be these three:
1. Know your stuff and be prepared for labor. This means enrolling in childbirth education classes and preparing a birthing plan.
2. There is no rush to get to the hospital. If possible, try to relax and rest in the comfort of your own home during the early labor phase of stage one. The remaining phases and stages will be at the hospital and will be intense.
3. Expect a lot of blood and other bodily fluids, including poop (honestly!). Take a deep breath and go with it.
If you are an expectant father, make sure to visit www.thefunkystork.com for more male-oriented articles on pregnancy.
Owner and creator of http://www.thefunkystork.com - the only online guide for modern expectant fathers.