I believe that it is important for people to have the knowledge of how birth works in order to make informed choices and opinions; whether they are parents-to-be or third party members of the birth. Being aware of how a natural birth works is a stepping stone towards acknowledging your thoughts around non-natural practices for birth. One of the most well-known acts involving birth is labour. Everyone knows that labour exists, but do we fully understand what labour is or how it works? There are three main stages to labour and birth: blossoming, pushing, and placental. Here is a basic introduction to the stages of labour.
The blossoming stage (as I like to call it) refers to everything before a woman is ready to push her baby out. This is the time when the body readies itself (physically and emotionally) for the birth of the baby. Imagine a flower getting ready to blossom. The process happens slowly over time. At first you may question how long it will take for the flower to fully open, but you patiently wait for its full bloom. Gloria Lemay does a beautiful job comparing childbirth to the opening of a flower. Treat your contractions and dilation similar to this.
The Early or Latent period of blossoming consists of a slow and calm dilation of the cervix. The cervix normally opens a small amount (about 0-3cm), just enough to prepare the cervix for stretching wide. It is best for the mother and partner to live their day normally during this time. Remember to eat, drink, and sleep.
Active labour is when the cervix does the most dilating. Generally this is when the mother will begin to feel her contractions more. Anyone else who is with her may notice more changes in her behaviour. Often the mother will become more “drawn in” and focus on her contractions. This does not necessarily mean she is uncomfortable or in pain, but it is good to check in with her every now and then (but not too often).
The last phase of blossoming is transition. Transitioning is often described as the most difficult part of the entire birthing process. However, it is important to know that it is also the shortest part. The last bit of dilation occurs at this point, resulting in an opening big enough for the baby to pass through. This is the most important time to focus on your breathing and your contractions.
Pushing is the most well-known stage of labour, mainly because this is the stage that media chooses to acknowledge in film and pictures. Natural pushing is done on the mother’s time: when she feels the urge to push. It can be helpful to be guided by a midwife, doctor, or other birth attendant when to push, but it is not necessary.
Once the baby is brought into the world all is well. The mother is filled with plenty of oxytocin, and those around her are very welcoming of the new addition to the family. However there is still the placenta which needs to be birthed. The placenta does not need to be brought out of the mother right away. It is perfectly fine for her to bond with her baby for a little bit beforehand. Like the baby, the placenta will come out in its own time. It is important to keep the “birth energy” until the placenta is born out of the mother since she may still feel the contractions and will need to focus on them. Until the time for the placenta to be birthed, spend time with your baby. Allow yourself to take in all of your emotions undisturbed.