As you watch your mom or another woman who is advanced in her pregnancy walking around with such a huge belly, you probably wonder: how exactly is that baby ever coming out?  Many kids are curious about the process of birth itself: read on to find out more about how a baby is born.  Labor comes in three stages and we will be looking at all three of them!

Stage One: Early and Active Labor

Stage one of labor is the longest stage and is actually divided into two parts: early labor and active labor.

  • Early labor. Early labor officially begins when the bottom of the uterus (which is holding the baby) called the cervix begins to open up (called dilation) and to thin out (called effacement). This dilation and effacement are necessary for the baby to pass out of the womb and into the birth canal.  Sometimes, during the early stages of labor, the woman’s “water” breaks: this is when the fluids that have been surrounding the baby in the womb break in preparation for birth; sometimes, however, this does not happen until later. The process of early labor usually happens slowly and can come with mild to moderate muscle cramps called contractions.  These contractions can last from 30 to 90 seconds and come in five minute intervals.  Depending on the woman, this stage of the labor can last anywhere from 6 to 12 hours.  During the early stage of labor, women can ease the pain by walking around, taking a bath, getting a massage or breathing deeply to relax. Some women might find it helpful to keeping drinking small amounts of fluid to stay hydrated and to rest if they are tired.  Early labor ends when the cervix is between 4 and 6 centimeters wide.
  • Active labor. During active labor, the cervix will get wider, going from 4-6 centimeters to 10 centimeters, which is how wide it needs to be before a baby can safely pass through. The contractions are longer, more painful and closer together and if the water has not broken already, it will break at this stage in the labor process. Women can be in a lot of pain at this point and additionally have problems like leg cramps and nausea.  Some may even throw up!  Natural ways to ease pain and discomfort at this stage in the labor include massage, changing positions, and using a birthing ball, a large rubber ball to bounce up and down on (seriously!).  This stage of labor can last around 8 hours and ends when the cervix dilates to 10 centimeters; this follows the transition stage, or time of hardest contractions, as the labor moves into Stage 2.

Stage Two: Birth of the Baby

Stage Two is the most exciting part of labor — the delivery of the baby itself!  Its length can vary and it can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours for the baby to move into the birth canal. Women will be urged to push during the contractions to help the baby move through the canal itself and eventually the baby’s head will appear; this event is called the crowning.  Doctors will suction the baby’s nose and mouth as the head appears and check to make sure that the umbilical cord is not wrapped around the baby’s neck (which can cause a lot of problems).  Gradually, the rest of the baby’s body will follow and the baby’s will eventually emerge entirely from his mother’s body.  The baby will be quickly dried off and wrapped up to keep him warm and the umbilical cord will be cut either by the doctor or the baby’s father. It is then time for the parents to begin bonding with their baby and your mom may even start breastfeeding right away.

Stage Three: Delivery of the Placenta

The labor isn’t over yet!  Contractions — but milder ones this time — will start and pretty soon the placenta — which is the sac where the baby was growing and developing — will come out, too.  It is very important to make sure that all of the placenta has been passed — if any of it remains in the uterus, it can cause serious infections.  Doctors at this point will also massage your mom’s belly to help the uterus start to contract and to stop the bleeding that happens after a baby is born.

To tell the truth, labor is painful. And it can be pretty messy, too!  But it is also a beautiful thing to have another baby — your little brother or sister! – come into the world!