Okay, maybe labour isn’t exactly a party – but it is a special, exciting event! The three stages of labour are a natural process designed to guide your baby into the world.
Every mum’s experience of labour and birth is different, and unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict what yours will be like – when it will start, how long it will last, what it will feel like. But generally, births follow a pattern of three stages, each defined by specific events and milestones.
The third stage
You’d think that labour would be over now that your baby has emerged, but there’s one more stage, which can take up to an hour: Delivering the placenta and membranes. Chances are you are so wrapped up in meeting your newborn that you don’t notice how much time passes during this stage.
Your baby may have emerged in what felt like a tidal wave of fluids and blood, and some mums-to-be are rather shocked at the third stage of labour, which is undoubtedly the goriest – but also quite fascinating, as you will get to see the organ that sustained your baby’s life in the womb.
At this point, your LMC or midwife will have clamped your baby’s umbilical cord and severed it (or your partner may have had the honour of cutting the cord), leaving your baby with a little stump, which will gradually dry up and fall off.
You will feel contractions begin again, but they are weaker and working for a different purpose – they are helping your uterus to contract, which expels the placenta in a short time. You may feel the urge to push again, and the placenta and membranes (the empty bag of waters attached to the placenta) will come out in the same way that your baby did, although usually far less painfully.
To reduce the chances of post-partum haemorrhage, your LMC or midwife may give you an injection at this time, to help your uterus to contract. Your LMC may assist by pressing down on the top of your uterus and gently tugging the cut umbilical cord which is attached to the placenta inside your body. Your midwife may also help you to latch your baby to your breast, which can help to stimulate contractions. Skin-to-skin contact with your baby also helps to move things along.
Once the placenta and membranes are out, your midwife will examine them thoroughly, checking for anything that may have been left inside, which can cause bleeding and serious infections.
After the birth
Once the placenta has been delivered, you may need stitches if you have had a tear or an episiotomy. Your LMC will do this, possibly giving you an injection of local anaesthetic to help numb your perineum while she stitches it up. Your midwife may want you to continue to try breastfeeding your baby, as his sucking can help your uterus continue to contract.
Now your midwife will weigh and measure your baby, and dress him in his first nappy. If you have brought clothing to the hospital, she will dress the baby for you, or help you or your partner to dress him yourself if you want to.
Your LMC or midwife will clean between your legs and thighs where there may still be some blood or fluids from the birth. Then, while the new dad or your support person holds your baby, she will help you into the shower.
You might feel shaky and exhausted, and need help showering. The showers at the birthing centre or hospital will either have a seat or a bench inside, and a moveable shower head on a cord which you can use to aim at your body while seated.
Your midwife will help you to dress, with a thick maternity pad in your underwear, and sometimes two. You’ll need to change this pad frequently during the first 24 hours following the birth, and the hospital or birthing centre will usually provide these pads, although you can bring your own too. Sometimes the hospital maternity pads don’t have adhesive to attach them to your underwear, so be aware of this.
Don’t be embarrassed if you need help putting on your underwear or pyjamas. Sometimes new mums continue to feel quite shaky, as you have been through a major physical undertaking, so it is natural that your body needs time to recover. Your LMC or midwife won’t mind giving you a bit of help and ensuring you’re okay.
You may want something to eat and drink, like tea and toast, or you may have packed light snacks – to help regain your strength, particularly if your labour was long. If you feel light-headed, see spots, feel faint, or if something doesn’t “feel right”, tell your LMC straightaway.
Your LMC will continue to monitor you as you transition from the delivery room to the room where you’ll be staying for the next few days. She’ll check on you daily, as will the maternity nurses and charge midwives who are on duty – they will come in to check on you and your baby several times a day.
You may want to take your placenta home with you. Your midwife will place it in a plastic bag and then inside a box. Many mums store their placentas in their freezers until choosing to plant it under a tree or otherwise – just make sure to mark the box clearly so no one thinks it’s ice cream!
What happens in the previous two stages?
BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.