What is Labor?
Pregnancy brings a lot of changes in a woman’s life – both are identified in the psychological and physical aspect. People are often curious about learning these changes because they often signify the progress of a woman’s pregnancy. A pregnant woman should be well-informed about the changes that will happen, including what she should expect during labor and birth.
Generally, labor is defined as a chain of events in which uterine contractions and abdominal pressure expel a fetus, followed by the placenta, from a woman’s body. Regular contractions occur during this period and continue to cause dilatation of the cervix, along with adequate amount of muscular force to allow the baby to be pushed to the outside. Labor is a momentous event – both an ending and a beginning for a woman, her family, and the baby.
Initial Signs of Labor
Prior to the actual labor process, a lot of women often experience elusive signs that indicate the onset of labor.
First, there is what we call lightening, or descent of the fetal presenting part into the woman’s pelvis. In first-time mothers, this occurs for up to 10 days, sometimes even 2 weeks before labor actually begins. In mothers who have had multiple pregnancies, this occurs faster and could take place on the day of labor or even after labor has begun. Lightening may be accompanied by shooting leg pains, increased amount of vaginal discharge and urinary frequency from bladder pressure.
Increased level of activity may also occur. A woman may awaken on the morning of labor full of energy. This usually occurs in relation to an increased secretion of the hormone epinephrine which works to prepare the woman’s body for the upcoming labor.
In the last few days before labor, a woman might notice extremely strong Braxton Hicks contraction, which is often mistaken as true labor contractions; prompting them to go to the hospital earlier than expected. Generally, these contractions remain irregular and often disappear with ambulation and sleep. These do not increase in frequency, duration or intensity as compared to true labor, and do not cause dilatation of the cervix.
Ripening of the cervix is a sign of impending labor that is seen only through pelvic examination. Throughout the pregnancy, a woman’s cervix feels softer than normal, like the consistency of an earlobe. At term, however, the cervix becomes even softer, and starts to tip forward.
Signs of True Labor
The most accurate sign that labor has begun is productive uterine contractions. Contractions occur involuntarily and come without warning. Eventually, these contractions will become regular and predictable. True contractions are different compared to Braxton Hicks contractions in that it continues regardless of the woman’s level of activity. It increases in duration, frequency and intensity and can cause cervical dilatation.
Oftentimes, labor begins with rupture of the membranes. It is usually felt as either a sudden gush or a scanty, slow leaking of clear fluid from the vagina. Early rupture of the membranes can be beneficial because it can cause the fetus’ head to settle into the pelvis, which can actually shorten the labor process.
Another sign of true labor is the “bloody show”. The mucus plug that once filled the cervical canal during pregnancy is expelled. Cervical capillaries will be exposed and blood starts to leak out due to the pressure exerted by the fetus. The blood, which is mixed with mucus, appears pinkish, hence the term “bloody show”.
Helpful Tips during Labor
All women should be taught about initial and true signs of labor so that they will be able to recognize when labor is beginning.
Differentiating true contractions from false contractions is important so the mother won’t feel too anxious. To be told she is not having true contractions and should return home is actually quite disheartening to some women. If this happens, offer sympathetic support and reassure her that misinterpreting such signals is common.
It is always better for a pregnant woman to know more about true signs of labor. This is both helpful to prevent preterm birth and the woman will feel safer knowing what is happening during labor.
If a woman is already experiencing true contractions, being able to predict the pattern of contractions is helpful so she can be able to control the degree of discomfort during the process. Allow her to perform breathing exercises.
“Bloody show” can sometimes cause other women to panic. They need to be aware that this is normal and that they’re not bleeding abnormally. Also, some women may feel anxious if their labor begins with rupture of the membranes. Reassure her by telling her that this event will not cause the labor process to be long and difficult, as opposed to the common belief that rupture of the membranes can cause labor to be “dry”.
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