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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

What is the process of labor?
Labor is a group of steps that your uterus (womb) goes through to deliver (push out) your baby. It is not known for sure what causes labor to begin. Hormones made by you and your baby and changes in your uterus may help to start labor. There is no way to know when labor will start and when your baby will be born. There are signs you can look for and things to do to be ready.

How do I get ready for labor?
Talk to your caregiver about the following as you get ready for your baby's birth:

  • What is your caregiver's phone number?
  • When should you call your caregiver?
  • Does your caregiver want you to go to the hospital or birth center right away when you think you are in labor? Should you call your caregiver before leaving for the hospital or birth center?
  • How many minutes apart should your contractions (kon-TRAK-shuns) be before you go to the hospital or birth center?
  • Should you go to the hospital or birth center if your amniotic (am-nee-OT-tik) bag of water breaks, but you are not having contractions?
  • Should you call the caregiver if you are bleeding?
  • Are there other reasons why you should call?
  • Do you have any questions you need answered to get ready for your labor and delivery?

How will I know I am in labor?

  • Your uterus is a muscle that tightens and relaxes. The tightening and loosening that you feel in your abdomen (belly) is your uterus contracting. These contractions help open your cervix (the bottom part of the uterus). Your cervix needs to be open to push your baby out through your vagina. Timing your contractions is one way to tell if you are in labor. Time your contractions from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next. Write this information down for one hour. Your caregiver will tell you how many minutes apart the contractions should be before going to the hospital or birth center. Call your caregiver if your contractions are this many minutes apart.

  • Sometimes it is hard to time contractions correctly because your labor pains are not hard or strong. You may want to call your caregiver if you think you are going into labor. You may have had false labor pains during your pregnancy. ┬áSometimes it is hard to know if you are having false labor pains (Braxton-Hicks contractions), or true labor pains. You may need a vaginal (internal) exam to know if you are really in labor. Caregivers will be able to tell if the changes in your cervix show signs of labor.

  • Each contraction will last about 30 to 60 seconds if you are in true labor. The contractions will come and go at regular times. Your contractions will get stronger and closer together as you get closer to having your baby. You will also have more pain during contractions as they get closer together. The contractions will not go away when you move around or lie down. You will be asked to stay in the hospital or birth center if your contractions are strong, getting closer together, and your cervix is opening. Other reasons for going into the hospital or birth center are if your water has broken or if you are bleeding.

What happens during labor? Following are the three stages (parts) of labor:

  • Stage 1: Your uterus contracts to prepare your cervix for delivery and to push your baby out of the birth canal. The contractions help your cervix dilate (DEYE-layt) (open), and efface (ee-FAYS) (thin). This stage ends when you are completely effaced and dilated.

  • Stage 2: The uterus continues to contract to push your baby through the birth canal during this stage of labor. This stage ends with the birth of your baby.

  • Stage 3: This is the last stage of labor. It is when the placenta (afterbirth) is delivered out of your uterus through your vagina. It is the tissue (skin) that joined you to your baby when your baby was growing inside you. Its job was to bring food and oxygen to your baby, and take away wastes.

Support: The process of labor is very exciting. Knowing what to expect can decrease any fear that you may have. You and a support person may want to take childbirth classes together to prepare for your baby's birth. These classes will teach you what to expect during your labor. They may help you feel more in control of your labor and delivery. The classes may be offered by your hospital or birth center, or other organizations. Ask your caregiver about childbirth classes.