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Normal Labor and Delivery Process

(continued)

Stages of Labor continued...

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.

Pain Treatments

Just as the amount of time in labor varies, the amount of pain women experience is different, too.

The position and size of your baby and strength of your contractions can influence pain, as well. Although some women can manage their pain with breathing and relaxation techniques learned in childbirth classes, others will need other methods to control their pain.

Some of the more commonly used pain-relief methods include:

MedicationsSeveral drugs are used to help ease the pain of labor and delivery. Although these drugs are generally safe for the mother and baby, as with any drugs, they have the potential for side effects.

Pain-relieving drugs fall into two categories: analgesics and anesthetics.

Analgesics relieve pain without the total loss of feeling or muscle movement. During labor, they may be given systemically by injection into a muscle or vein or regionally by injection into the lower back to numb your lower body. A single injection into the spinal fluid that relieves pain quickly is referred to as a spinal block. An epidural block continuously administers pain medication to the area around your spinal cord and spinal nerves through a catheter inserted into the epidural space. Possible risks of both include decreased blood pressure, which can slow the baby's heart rate, and headache.

Anesthetics block all feeling, including pain. They also block muscle movement. General anesthetics cause you to lose consciousness. If you have a cesarean delivery, you may be given general, spinal, or epidural anesthesia. The appropriate form of anesthesia will depend on your health, your baby's health, and the medical conditions surrounding your delivery.

Non-Drug Options. Non-drug methods for relieving pain include acupuncture, hypnosis, relaxation techniques, and changing position frequently during labor. Even if you choose non-drug pain relief, you can still ask for pain medications at any point during your delivery.

WebMD Medical Reference

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