During early labor the first contractions are gradually effacing the cervix which will dilate in preparation for delivery. The early stage of labor can last for hours and does not require an immediate trip to the hospital.
Contractions are more frequent and more painful. Once contractions come every five minutes for an hour, the doctor should be called and the trip to the hospital made. The cervix must stretch from approximately three centimeters to 10 centimeters in order for delivery to begin.
In the transition stage, the cervix becomes fully dilated with stronger contractions every three minutes, each lasting up to a minute. The baby's head moving down the vagina creates great pressure, and the urge for the mother to push the baby along. This stage may last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Labor typically progresses more slowly for first-time moms.
Once the cervix is completely dilated, pushing begins. The force of pushing combined with uterine contractions, moves the baby down and out of the vaginal canal. The baby "crowns" when the widest part of its head is visible. Labor is not over until the placenta is delivered. With the placenta out, the uterus will continue to contract compressing the placental blood vessels and stopping the former blood supply that nourished the baby.
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