What Happens to Your Body During Childbirth?
Giving birth is a unique and life-changing experience for the mother. The way your body and mind change to help you bring forth life is nothing less than a miracle. But what exactly is your body going through as you bring your bundle of joy into the world? If you understand these changes, it will help you interpret the signals your body gives, and you will be able to participate actively in your labor and childbirth. In this article, we attempt to explain what happens just before and during childbirth in a simple manner with as little medical jargon as possible.
The Anatomical Marvel
To begin with, it is the shape of the pelvis and the supporting muscles that work together in almost clockwork precision to help you bring your baby into the world. The pelvis is located between the hip bones. The organs in the pelvis include the uterus, the cervix, and the vagina. Women typically have wider, flatter pelvises than men, as well as a wider pelvic cavity to allow a baby to pass through. The pelvis has bones and ligaments that move or stretch as the baby travels into the vagina. The baby, too, has spaces between the skull bones called ‘sutures.’ This allows the baby’s head to change shape as the skull bones meet or overlap, allowing it to fit more easily as it travels through your pelvis.
You tend to Bleed
Women tend to lose a lot of blood during and after childbirth. In fact, it can come as quite a shock to a first-time mother. Though this is perfectly normal, you may still consult your doctor in case you have any apprehensions, says Dr. Deepika.
Near the end of a woman’s second trimester, the body releases a hormone called relaxin, which causes the joints in the pelvis to relax, explains Dr. Deepika Aggarwal, a senior gynecologist at Gurgaon. The body also releases the hormone progesterone, which loosens a woman’s ligaments and muscles. This helps the bones in the pelvis to expand during labor, and thus accommodate the baby’s head as it works its way down the birth canal. Otherwise, it is hard to imagine how something so big can emerge from something so small! The cervix softens and becomes thinner as you enter the next stage of labor. Slowly, it prepares for dilation so that the baby can move lower into the vagina. The engagement At this stage, the baby starts to descend further down your pelvis and sits in place over the cervix. This is when the doctors say that the head is “engaged” and is ready for childbirth. You may feel your breathing become easier, but the increased pressure on your bladder may give you the urge to urinate.
The ‘Go’ Sign
Just before labor begins, you will pass a clear, gelatinous blob of mucous or notice a ‘bloody show’. This ‘show’ is a natural green signal indicating the preparedness of the body. At this moment, your body is opening up or unsealing itself.
The Water Breaking
Your baby is contained in a sac of amniotic fluid for its safety and nourishment. When labor begins, this bag might break, and the fluid might run out of the vagina. This is termed as rupture of the membranes, or ‘waters breaking’. Not all women have their waters break at this stage, though. According to Dr. Deepika, only about 1 in 10, expecting mothers experience this before they go into labor.
Contractions Set in
Active labor is not as dramatic as shown in the movies! At times, you will realize much later that you have entered labor. At this moment, you may experience restlessness, have back pain or period-like pain, or stomach disturbances such as diarrhea.
Lack of Sleep or Hunger
The body releases progesterone, which suppresses the desire for food while catecholamines trigger the “fight or flight” response, which essentially makes women preternaturally alert. Simultaneously, the brain is releasing the hormone oxytocin, which impacts the uterus and fuels contractions. Thus, whatever may be the time of your delivery, even if at late night, you are always awake and never craving for food!
Changes in the Cervix – A Disappearing Act
Your contractions draw the cervix up into the body of the uterus, and it becomes thinner and opens (dilatation). Once the cervix is completely dilated, it vanishes! The most astonishing aspect of this whole process is that an opening that normally is so small becomes relaxed enough to accommodate a human child coming through and then afterward, bounces back into its original shape after labor. With each contraction, the uterus is squeezing down, and due to that pressure, the baby is guided towards the birth canal. Then the baby’s head presses against the cervix, forcing the latter to disintegrate and open. At this stage, to help deal with the stress and pain, your body produces calming and pain-relieving hormones called endorphins. High endorphin levels during labor and birth can help you deal with the process of giving childbirth, even if it is long and arduous.
The Vagina expands
The cervix is fully dilated at about ten centimeters. Once that stage is reached, the baby begins to drop into the vagina from the uterus due to the contractions. The vagina has many folds called rugae, which unfold to make space for the baby to pass outside your body. This is when you start to push!
You make Two Deliveries
Once the baby has been delivered, you have to deliver the placenta. The uterus continues to contract, forcing the placenta out and also stops the bleeding in the process that could be otherwise life-threatening rapidly. Meanwhile, the oxytocin prepares you to start breastfeeding. It helps you feel good, and it triggers nurturing feelings and behaviors.
The role of Birth Hormones
Birth hormones are chemical “messengers” that are produced not just by your body but by the baby too. These hormones work together to bring about the changes in your body that help streamline the process of birthing and labor. They ● Get your body ready to give birth ● Start your labor contractions ● Prepare your baby for labor and life outside your body ● Initiate milk production
After childbirth, your hormone balance can change again, and this can cause what is known as ‘Baby Blues’ in some women. You may feel emotional, get anxious, and irritable easily or experience severe mood swings. This is a normal phenomenon, though the severity of the mood swings can vary from person to person. Once again, if you feel the need, please do consult with your doctor.
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