This chapter has information to help you prepare for labour and to give birth to your baby.
What is Labour?
Labour is how your body works at birthing your baby. It happens when the womb (uterus) muscles tighten (contract) in a repetitive way that moves your baby into the birth canal (vagina) and to the outside. The contractions help to open the cervix (opening of the uterus) so that your baby can be born.
Usually labour begins between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy. Your health care provider will talk about what happens if you go into labour before 37 weeks of after 42 weeks.
Every labour and birth is different.
Usually, the first labour lasts between 12 and 20 hours.
How the Cervix Changes
The cervix is the opening of the womb (uterus). Traditonally, it is often referred to as the first doorway.
Efface: The cervix gets thinner (effaces) before it opens (dilates).
Dilate: The cervix opens (dilates) fully to about 10 cm (4 inches).
Three Birthdays in the Same Room
It was the Aboriginal midwife’s birthday, the woman’s birthday, and the day the woman gave birth! The woman, who was turning 20, had an evening labour. She laboured through the night and in the morning, she had a baby girl. The whole family came into the room, singing and drumming. The family brought sacred water from their community as well. All three birthdays were celebrated! It was really special for everyone! Consider how you can celebrate--if not at the time, then later with family and community.
Signs of Labour
There are normal signs that tell you that your labour may begin soon. Most women go into labour within a week of their due date. If you have signs of labour before you are 37 weeks pregnant, call your care provider or go to the hospital right away
Near the end of your pregnancy, your baby will move down. When this happens you will be able to breathe better. You will feel less burning in your chest and throat after you eat. You will have to pee (pass urine) more often. If this is your first baby, this may happen 2 to 3 weeks before you go into labour. If this is not your first baby, this may not happen until closer to the time you give birth.
While you are pregnant, you have a thick mucus plug in your cervix (opening of the womb or uterus). As the baby’s birth gets closer, your cervix begins to thin and open, and the plug comes out. When this happens you will notice thick mucus on your underwear, or in the toilet, or you may not notice it at all.
You may notice a pink, red, or brown discharge a few days before labour, or during labour. This is called bloody show. It is like spotting, not like a period. Tell your health care provider when this happens.
Bag of Water Breaks
Your baby is inside a bag of water (amniotic sac) in your womb (uterus). When the baby is ready to be born it is normal for the bag of water to break. This is an important sign. When it happens, you may have a little or a lot of water leaking from your birth canal (vagina). Sometimes people do not know whether this is water or pee (urine). Sometimes the waters break before labour begins however the most common time for the water to break is 8 cm dilation. If you are not sure, call your health care provider.
When your bag of water (amniotic sac) breaks:
- Write down the time that your bag of water broke.
- Look at the colour of the water (it should be clear not brown or green). Some spotting of blood can be normal.
- Notice if there is a smell (it should not smell strongly).
- Do not use a tampon – use a pad in your underwear.
- Follow the instructions that your health care provider or hospital gave you.
Late in your pregnancy you may have contractions (uterus tightens, rests, and tightens again) that are strong. They may come and go for hours or days and then stop. These contractions are helping your womb (uterus) get ready for birth and are called pre-labour or Braxton-Hicks contractions.
First Nations Beliefs
Our Nuu chah Nulth belief as shared with me by my dad, a spiritual person of our people: “The spirits of our people reside in the milky way. When a woman goes into labour, that is the moment the spirit begins its journey to earth to be one of the people. At the moment of crowning and the head coming out, the baby’s spirit enters the body to reside there until the journey is begun again at death back to the milky way. “ Cree traditional beliefs are similar to this. Ask an Elder for more details.
“In Anishinaabe culture, the waters are considered sacred. A long time ago, they used to sing a special honour song when the waters broke.”