What to Expect During Labor

If you’re getting ready to have your first baby, you likely have some questions about what to expect during labor for first time moms. While there are some common things that happen during most deliveries, it’s best to keep in mind that each delivery is unique to mom and baby.

For example, it’s not unusual to be sent home from the hospital if your healthcare provider determines you're not in labor (false labor) or if you’re in early labor and it’s determined everything is fine with you and your baby.

What are the different types of childbirth?

Vaginal birth is the safest, most common way to deliver a baby. If the baby needs some help moving out of the birth canal, the healthcare provider may use special forceps or a vacuum cup attached to the top of the baby’s head to gently pull the baby out during your contractions.

It may be determined that a Cesarean delivery (also known as a C-section) is necessary once you’re in labor, especially if your baby:

  • Becomes distressed
  • Is not in a head-down position
  • Is too large to pass through your pelvis

Who will be with me during labor & delivery?

It’s important to know that you will see a variety of healthcare personnel if you’re delivering your baby in hospital. Your doctor or healthcare provider delivering your baby will likely not be with you through the early stages of labor. A labor nurse will be assigned to care for you and your baby during this stage instead.

If you’re giving birth in a teaching hospital, you can expect various medical and nursing students may also be assigned to help care for you alongside the hospital staff.

Your husband or partner will also be encouraged and welcome to help you through the labor process. Your healthcare provider can explain to both of you what to expect during labor and delivery so together you can make a plan when the big day arrives.

What can I expect for medications and other procedures?

Sometimes it’s necessary to induce or bring about labor for medical reasons. One way to induce labor is through an amniotomy. This is commonly referred to as “breaking your water” which is the sac of amniotic fluid surrounding the baby. The healthcare provider uses a small amniohook that looks like a crochet hook to open the sac. If this doesn’t work to bring about active labor, a medication called Pitocin can be given by intravenously (IV) or a medication called Cytotec that can be given orally or vaginally by your doctor or nurse, to help induce labor.

What can I expect for pain?

Most women find labor and delivery painful. However the intensity and type of pain varies for each woman. Pressure is the other common sensation to expect as the baby moves through the birth canal.

You may receive narcotic pain medications by IV or through an epidural. An epidural is administered by putting a catheter (flexible plastic tubing) into the epidural space around the spinal cord in your lower back which is inserted through a large needle. Once the catheter is in place, the needle is removed and pain medication is given either by the labor nurse or self-administered through a pump (a safety mechanism is programmed into the pump to prevent overdosing).

Having an epidural makes your legs feel weak temporarily so a different type of catheter may be put into your bladder to drain your urine since it will be difficult to stand or walk to the bathroom. And while we’re discussing the bathroom, it’s also normal for a woman to have a bowel movement, especially as she’s pushing and the baby’s head begins to crown.

What can I expect after the delivery?

After you deliver your baby, you will need to deliver the placenta and amniotic sac. This may happen spontaneously within minutes after your baby's delivery or it may take up to half an hour.

The hours and several days after your delivery are called the postpartum period. During this time, some common things to expect include:

  • Vaginal discharge and soreness
  • More contractions
  • Urinary incontinence (urine dribbling or leakage)
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Pain with bowel movements
  • Breast tenderness
  • Skin changes and possible hair loss
  • Weight loss
  • Mood changes