What an Expecting Mother Can Expect.

While pregnancy comes with its mix of happiness and problems, it is always the light at the end of the tunnel, or rather the cute baby there, which drives expecting mothers to get through those trying nine months. From the jubilant happiness on receiving the news that you are pregnant, to the seemingly endless morning sickness, nausea and fatigue, expecting mothers reach close to their due date. The date on which they hope to hold the fruit of their nine months’ hard labor finally in their hands and cuddle it close. But the last obstacle is yet to be passed, and that is the labor process.

Most first time mothers are a little apprehensive about what they can expect at the time of labor, and want to know when the contractions will start and how long will the entire labor process actually last. These are questions which are answered by the midwives and doctors, along with the promise of complete support to help the mothers throughout the somewhat demanding process.

While each pregnancy and labor is different for each woman, guidance is available.

Birth Contractions and What to Expect

Simply put, birth or labor contractions are the natural way for your body to push the baby down your birth canal and introduce it to the world. While expecting mothers might experience contractions at different stages of their pregnancy, it doesn’t always mean that it is high time that the baby was pushed into the world. Some are regular contractions, while others might just fade away when you change your position. But labor contractions are a different story altogether.

What Are Labor Contractions?

In the weeks that will lead to your pregnancy, you will experience different signs which will also include labor contractions.

You can be sure that you are experiencing real labor contractions, if

  • The contractions actually intensify with activity
  • If the contractions don’t go away with changing your position
  • If contractions become regular, frequent and progressive and last around 30 to about 70 seconds each time. As real labor progresses the intensity of the contractions will increase
  • There is a pink or blood stained discharge of the mucus plus, also called as the ‘bloody show’
  • There might be cramps or diarrhea
  • Your water will break or the membranes will rupture during the labor process

It is not sure what causes labor contractions, but it is believed that a relay of processes and chemical messages in the brain of the fetus, sets off certain hormonal changes in the mother, which causes changes in the levels of oxytocins and prostaglandins in the body, that sets off body contractions.

What Do the Contractions Feel Like?

The early contractions feel like painful menstrual cramps, gastrointestinal upset or pressure in the lower abdominal area. The pain may even radiate down to the leg in the upper thigh area. The best signs of a labor contraction are the intensity, regularity and frequency.

With labor contractions, there is a word of caution. It is essential that you reach the hospital if you start feeling contractions and haven’t yet reached the 38 weeks of your pregnancy. It might be a sign that you are experiencing preterm labor, which necessitates immediate medical attention.

You should also get immediate medical attention if your water breaks and there is a greenish brown discharge. If the labor pain hasn’t started and your water breaks, or if you feel that the umbilical cord has slipped into your cervical, you need immediate medical attention.

Average Time for Labor Contractions

The average length, duration and frequency of the contractions, actually depend upon your labor stage.  The early labor contractions are expected to last for around 30 to 45 seconds. The active labor contractions are more frequent and intense that last up to around 40 to 60 seconds. The transitional labor contractions pick up frequency and intensity that last about 60 to 90 seconds.

In the second stage of labor, the contractions last about 60 to 90 seconds. These might have more time between each contraction and are possibly less painful.

What Is Induced Labor?

Induced labor is the artificial startup of the birth process of the baby, which is brought about my medical intervention and some other methods. Induced labor which is not done in response to any emergency or a medical reason is termed as an elective option.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the process of induced labor should only be opted for; when there is reason with medical evidence to prove that it is riskier for the unborn baby to be within the uterus, rather than to be born.

Medical Reasons for Induced Labor

There are certain medical reasons which make induced labor an option. Labor might be induced if,

  • Any complication should arise like, bleeding during the pregnancy, hypertension, gestational diabetes, heart disease or preeclampsia
  • If there is a high probability that the baby will not receive suitable nutrients along with oxygen from placenta
  • The rupturing of the amniotic sac and no start of labor for around 24 to 48 hours
  • Pregnancy which lasts for more than 42 weeks, and there is high risk to the baby because of a decrease in the overall supply of required nutrients through the placenta
  • A form of uterus infection called the chorioamnionitis

How Can Labor Be Induced?

There are 3 main ways of inducing labor, which are,

  • Through medications
  • AROM or artificial rupture of the membrane
  • Natural process

Induced Labor through Medication

There are different medications used for inducing labor. Oxytocin and Prostaglandin are used for the purpose.

Prostaglandin suppositories are used by insertion into the vaginal area. The process is done in the evening which prepares the body ready to go into labor in the morning. The advantage of this method is that the expecting mother is free to walk around in the room through the process.

Oxytocin is a hormone which is naturally produced by the body to stimulate the contractions. There are different brand name medications which are in actual, natural forms of oxytocin. These medications are given in low dosage through IV, in order to stimulate the contractions. Oxytocin is effective in speeding up any labor which hasn’t initiated on its own, and it also speeds up the actual labor process. But if the labor progresses too quickly, it can make the contractions quite difficult to manage, without the help of any pain medication. It might become essential to discontinue the medication if the contractions are too close together or powerful.

Artificial Rupture of the Membrane

When the amniotic sac breaks or in other words the water breaks, there is an increase in the production of prostaglandin, which speeds up and increases the contractions. The artificial rupturing of the membrane of the amniotic sac is done with a plastic sterile hook, which brushes against the membranes within the cervix, which causes the head of the baby to move down and makes the contractions become stronger. Warm amniotic fluid is released from the vaginal area as a result.

The advantages of the AROM procedure include labor being shortened by as much as an hour, and easy monitoring of the baby’s heart rate through the scalp by means of direct access. This procedure also allows the examination of the amniotic fluid for any possible signs of meconium, which acts as an indicator of fetal distress.

The possible disadvantages of using this process are that the baby may adopt a breech position, or the umbilical cord might just slip out first. There is also a risk of infection of if too much time is spent between the rupturing of the membrane and the actual birth of the baby.

Induced Labor through Natural Process

A natural form of inducing labor is the nipple stimulation. This can be done manually or through the use of an electric breastfeeding pump. The natural hormone oxytocin will be produced to set off contractions in the body. This concept is similar to the idea of nursing the baby just after birth, as the process stimulates contractions that slows down the bleeding.

An expecting mother can get more information from her midwife or doctor about induced labor and birth contractions.

© Teresa Boardman, Nanny Options.


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