Labour is a generic term used to describe a particular
set of circumstances, which begin with regular contractions of the uterine muscles
and ultimately lead to the delivery of a baby. The word Labour is
a very appropriate one, as anyone who has ever given birth will know that it
involves a lot of hard, physical work!
does labour begin?
Many women find it very difficult to know when
they are in true labour, and may often rush off to the maternity hospital only
to be sent home again for another week.
Early labour pains can feel like period pains,
which come intermittently. They may feel like a band of pain tightening across
the stomach and are sometimes accompanied by worsening backache. During this
wave of pain (called a contraction) the abdomen will feel hard and tight if
a hand is placed on it. The pain reaches a climax then dies away until the next
wave of pain comes along.
Timing of contractions, especially on a first pregnancy,
can be very difficult, as most women dont know what they are supposed
to be timing. If the contractions are preceded by a show or by the
rupture of the membranes surrounding a baby (i.e. breaking of the waters,
then true labour has definitely started.
is 'a show'?
Towards the end of pregnancy, a woman may notice
that a blood-tinged globule of mucus which looks like pinkish jelly or slime
will emerge from the vagina. This is actually the plug of mucus which has been
lodged in the cervix, or neck of the womb, throughout the nine months of pregnancy
and it is commonly referred to as a show. It is one of the most
reliable signs that a woman has gone into labour, although many women never
see a show at all.
is the 'breaking of the waters'?
This is another perplexing term of pregnancy, but
all it refers to is the rupture of the membranes which surround the baby. This
causes a gush of watery fluid out of the vagina, and is another reliable sign
that labour has started. The rupture of the membranes can be embarrassing for
a woman if it happens when she is in company, but in many cases, the membranes
have to be ruptured artificially under medical supervision in order to induce
are the stages of labour?
Labour has three distinct stages, as follows:
Often referred to as the first stage of labour,
this lasts from the onset of labour to the time when the cervix is fully dilated
(opened) to allow the babys head to pass through. Full dilation is achieved
at 10 centimetres.
This lasts from full dilation of the cervix to
the completion of delivery of the baby, and is usually the most exhausting period
of labour as the mother has to engage in very hard physical work in pushing
the baby out.
This lasts from the completion of delivery of the
baby to the time when the placenta (or afterbirth) is delivered. It is usually
the shortest stage of labour.
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