Perinatal Neonatal

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Stages of Labor

Labor is typically divided into three stages:

Stage 1

The first stage of labor is divided into three phases: latent, active, and transition.

The first, the latent phase, is the longest and least intense. During this phase, contractions become more frequent, helping your cervix to dilate so your baby can pass through the birth canal. Discomfort at this stage is still minimal. During this phase, your cervix will dilate approximately 3 or 4 centimeters and efface, or thin out. If your contractions are regular, you will probably be admitted to the hospital during this stage and have frequent pelvic exams to determine how much the cervix is dilated.

During the active phase, the cervix dilates from 4 to 7 centimeters. You may feel intense pain or pressure in your back or abdomen during each contraction. You may also feel the urge to push or bear down, but your doctor will ask you to wait until your cervix is completely open.

During transition, the cervix fully dilates to 10 centimeters. Contractions are very strong, painful, and frequent, coming every three to four minutes and lasting from 60 to 90 seconds.

Stage 2

Stage 2 begins when the cervix is completely opened. At this point, your doctor will give you the OK to push. Your pushing, along with the force of your contractions, will propel your baby through the birth canal. The fontanels (soft spots) on your baby's head allow it to fit through the narrow canal.

Your baby's head crowns when the widest part of it reaches the vaginal opening. As soon as your baby's head comes out, your doctor will suction amniotic fluid, blood, and mucus from his or her nose and mouth. You will continue to push to help deliver the baby's shoulders and body.

Once your baby is delivered, your doctor -- or your partner, if he has requested to do so -- clamps and cuts the umbilical cord.

Stage 3

After your baby is delivered, you enter the final stage of labor. In this stage, you deliver the placenta, the organ that nourished your baby inside the womb.

Each woman and each labor is different. The amount of time spent in each stage of delivery will vary. If this is your first pregnancy, labor and delivery usually lasts about 12 to 14 hours. The process is usually shorter for subsequent pregnancies.

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