From contractions to your baby’s first cry

The big day is almost here. Keep calm. When giving birth, it is helpful for the expectant mother to stay as relaxed as possible. Being well-prepared helps.

Woman holding ultrasound image hugging man

A birth preparation course can provide you with important information about giving birth and the postnatal period. You learn special breathing techniques and relaxation strategies that are intended to make the birth easier for you. You can also discuss your questions and concerns with experts and other expectant parents.

Tip: Visit the place where you will deliver before the birth. Familiarise yourself with the facilities and atmosphere. This will also help you to be more relaxed on the day of the birth.

Braxton Hicks (practice) contractions and labour contractions

Braxton Hicks (practice) contractions begin from the 29th week of pregnancy. They are felt at regular intervals and last about 30 seconds.

From the 36th week, these contractions may become more frequent as you approach prelabour. Your body is preparing to give birth. Your baby’s head is gradually moving down into your pelvis. Braxton Hicks contractions can occur several hours or even days apart.

Once the labour contractions begin, this marks the start of labour. Labour contractions are stronger and more painful than Braxton Hicks contractions. They come at regular intervals that get shorter and shorter.

The birthing process

Natural childbirth consists of four stages. The length of these four stages is different for every woman. When giving birth for the first time, everything usually takes a bit longer. Nevertheless, don't take too long to get to the hospital.

Stage 1: dilation stage

The dilation stage is the period of time between the first labour contractions and full dilation of the cervix. During this stage, the baby's head gradually moves down into the pelvic ring. Over time, the contractions keep getting stronger, longer and closer together. 

Stage 2: transition stage

The last part of the dilation stage is also referred to as the transition stage during which the cervix fully dilates to up to 10 cm and the baby’s head rotates into the proper position.

Stage 3: expulsion stage

You have already made it through the longest stage of the birthing process. Your midwife will now show you the proper way to breathe and push. Every contraction pushes your baby a bit further out.

Stage 4: the afterbirth

You may be given the option of cutting the umbilical cord. However, the birth is not quite over. You will still experience afterpains. These are contractions which expel the afterbirth, or placenta, from your body, but are not as strong as the contractions during labour. Once the afterbirth stage is complete, you can hold your baby in your arms for the very first time. If your perineum was torn, it will be stitched under local anaesthetic.  

Physical changes after the birth

In the first six weeks following the birth, your body will go through drastic changes.

  • By the end of a pregnancy, the uterus weighs approximately 1.5 kg, but after the birth it shrinks back down to about 50-70 g. Afterpains support this regression process.
  • In the first three to four weeks, the lochia will change from a flow that resembles menstruation to a discharge.
  • Engorgement will make your breasts larger, warmer and firmer. This can be painful.
  • There is plenty of room again in your abdomen. It will take a few days for your digestion to adapt to this new situation and get going again.

Start moving around again soon after the birth. This will help you get back into shape and bodily functions such as urination and digestion to get back to normal more rapidly.

Breastfeeding during the postnatal period

Breastfeeding your baby can be a very sensitive matter at first. It's important to take your time. When your milk comes in, you may feel discomfort. Tips that might help:

  • wrapping a warm towel around your breast or taking a warm shower before breastfeeding reduces pain.
  • Nursing pads absorb leaking breast milk.
  • A loose-fitting nursing bra can reduce tightness in the breasts.
  • A cool face flannel, refrigerated cool-pack or even a cold quark compress may feel good after breastfeeding.

The nipples may become chafed and sore during breastfeeding. Incorrect positioning of the baby during feeding can make this condition worse. If this happens, try offering your baby the other breast. Treat the sore breast with nipple cream or ointment prescribed by your doctor.

Articles about this topic

Do you have questions?

We're here to help.