Parent Time

The Four Stages of Labor

The baby experts have identified four stages of labor, and who are we to disagree? Labor sometimes starts with small contractions, but the usual signal that childbirth is beginning is when your waters break. Immortalized in TV and film, we never actually see what happens when waters break: usually what we see is the mom-to-be waking up her husband to say, "It's time!" At which point, he puts the cat on his head, throws his hat out the back door, grabs his wife's overnight bag and rushes into the nearest closet.

But back to the parting of the waters. Of course, it isn't actually water, although I suppose you could argue that since we are all somewhere around 90% water, pretty much anything that we exude, extrude or even exhale is mainly water. The "waters" in question are the contents of the amniotic sac; a cocktail of blood, mucous, and saline-type go juice that acts as Baby's first bed.

It's heavy. In fact, most of the weight gain associated with pregnancy is due to the fullness of amniotic fluid. The amniotic fluid is the liquid medium that has cushioned and protected the embryo throughout your pregnancy. Like a chick in its shell, the baby lies suspended in this warm, soft liquid until just before birth. When labor begins, the amniotic sac usually ruptures, and the liquid spills out, ruining the upholstery but signaling the start of something really exciting.

--- Editor's Tip ----
A pregnant friend who hasn't seen her toes in three months told me, although childbirth can be quite uncomfortable, having a large pregnant belly can bring its own aches and pains. An available solution to reduce some pregnancy pains is to better support your back and belly with a maternity or pregnancy belt or harness. Click here to see an example of a pregnancy support belt.

Another way to eliminate yet another ache that comes with pregnancy is a good body pillow. Click here to see a pregnancy body pillow and get the proper restful sleep you and your unborn baby need.

Occasionally, contractions begin without rupturing the amniotic sac, which may break several hours down the road. Once in awhile the membrane of the sac is tough enough that the delivering midwife or physician winds up breaking the sac herself. But much of the time, waters breaking signifies the start of labor and lets you know it's time to leave the softball game and start looking for your fluffy pink bed jacket.

In case you were wondering, the average length of labor is 12-14 hours. Don't let the movies scare you, though: most of early labor consists of milder contractions with plenty of time between them for breathing, relaxing, wandering around the room, or arguing over baby names with your partner.

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