Labor and Delivery: What You Need to Know

Filed under: Delivery, Pregnancy Health

Labor and delivery, then hello baby! Credit: Getty Images

Labor and delivery are the final stages of pregnancy when a woman gives birth to a child. The process of labor and delivery typically begins about 38 weeks after conception or 40 weeks from a woman's last missed period. Some pregnancies may be weeks longer or shorter than a typical pregnancy.

Labor generally refers to the uterine contractions a woman experiences just prior to giving birth. The process of going into labor can be broken down into five distinct stages: Lightening, passing of the mucus plug, contractions, water breaking and effacement and dilation of the cervix. Not all women experience labor in the same way and not all of these stages will be apparent to a expecting mother.

Lightening is the process of the baby settling lower in the pelvis just prior the onset of contractions. The mucus plug is an accumulation of secretions which protect the uterus by forming a barrier within the cervical canal. Contractions are defined as the tightening and shortening of the uterine muscles during labor which lead to effacement and dilation of the cervix. Water breaking refers to the rupture of the amniotic sac, which has protected the baby throughout the pregnancy. Effacement and dilation refers to the stretching and opening of the cervix that occurs to prepare for the passage of the baby through the birth canal.

Delivery is simply the state of being delivered or giving birth to a child. As with labor, not all women will experience delivery in the same way or by the same method. Vaginal delivery is the most common and safest type of childbirth. This involves the baby passing through the birth canal and out the vagina. In some cases, a vaginal delivery is not possible and a cesarean delivery may be necessary to protect the health of the baby and the mother. A cesarean delivery, also known as a C-section, involves delivering the baby through a surgical incision made through the mother's abdominal wall and uterus.

Learn more about prenatal care on AOL Health.

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