Giving Birth

The average labor lasts 12-14 hours for a first baby. Labor is often faster for second and later children. You should call your health care provider when

  • Your contractions are between 5 and 10 minutes apart.
  • Your water breaks, especially if the fluid is stained dark, greenish brown.
  • You experience vaginal bleeding.
  • You can no longer walk or talk during contractions.
  • You are concerned about your health or the health and well-being of the baby.

If you think you may be going into labor, don’t hesitate to call your health care provider, no matter what time of day or night. Even if you get it wrong, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Stages of Delivery

Stage 1 – Labor. This stage begins when the pregnant woman has regular contractions that open (dilate) her cervix. This stage lasts until the cervix is fully opened to 10 centimeters (about 4 inches). This stage can occur gradually with no noticeable contractions over a period of days, but it can also happen in just a few hours with very clear contractions. Every labor is different.
Stage 2 – Pushing and Delivery. This stage begins when the cervix is fully open and ends with the birth of the baby. The average length for this stage is one to two hours, but many women have shorter or longer experiences.
Stage 3 – Delivery of the Placenta. This stage begins immediately after the birth of the baby and ends with the delivery of the placenta. This stage usually lasts between 10 minutes and one hour.

Preterm labor

Only about half the women who have preterm labor fall into any known risk group. About 12 percent of births (1 in 8) in the United States are preterm. Babies who are born preterm are at higher risk of needing hospitalization, having long-term health problems and of dying than babies born at the right time.

Three groups of women are at greatest risk of preterm labor and birth:

  • Women who have had a previous preterm birth
  • Women who are pregnant with twins, triplets or more
  • Women with certain uterine or cervical abnormalities

Preterm labor may sometimes be stopped with a combination of medication and rest. More often, birth can be delayed just long enough to transport the woman to a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and to give her a drug to help speed up her baby?s lung development.

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