The newborn’s outward appearance is caused by a variety of factors in its journey from the mother’s uterus, down the birth canal, and out into the world. We can trace its passage, beginning with the release of the chemicals that initiate the process of labor. And with labor the birth process begins.
About 266 days after conception, a protein called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) triggers the release of various hormones, and the process that leads to birth begins. When the concentration of oxytocin becomes high enough, the mother’s uterus begins periodic contractions.
During the prenatal period, the uterus, which is composed of muscle tissue, slowly expands as the fetus grows. After the fourth month it occasionally contracts in order to ready itself for the eventual delivery. These contractions, called Braxton–Hicks contractions, are sometimes called “false labor.”
When birth is actually imminent, the uterus begins to contract intermittently. The increasingly intense contractions make the uterus act like a vise, opening and closing to force the head of the fetus against the cervix, the neck of the uterus that separates it from the vagina. The force of the contractions becomes strong enough to propel the fetus slowly down the birth canal until it enters the world as a neonate—the term used for a newborn.
There are three stages of labor. The first stage of labor,
Dilation and effacement of the cervix.
The uterine contractions initially occur around every 8 to 10 minutes and last about 30 seconds. Toward the end of labor, the contractions may occur every 2 minutes and last almost 2 minutes. During the final part of the first stage of labor, the contractions increase to their greatest intensity, lasting an average of 12 to 14 hours with a first birth and 4 to 6 hours with later birth, a period known as transition. The mother’s cervix fully opens, eventually expanding around 10 centimeters to allow the baby’s head to pass through.
Delivery of the baby.
This stage is much shorter, lasting about 50 minutes for a first birth and 20 minutes in later births. Strong contractions of the uterus continue, but the mother also feels a natural urge to squeeze and push with her abdominal muscles. As she does so with each contraction, she forces the baby down and out. The second stage of labor ends when the baby has completely left the mother’s body.
Delivery of the placenta.
Labor comes to an end with a few final contractions and pushes. These cause the placenta to separate from the wall of the uterus. The child’s umbilical cord (still attached to the neonate) will be delivered in about 5 to 10 minutes. This stage is the quickest.
Lamaze birthing techniques.
Mothers-to-be participate in a series of weekly training sessions in which they learn exercises that help them relax various parts of the body on command. Along with the future mother, a “coach,” most typically the father, also needs training. The training allows women to cope with painful contractions by concentrating on their breathing and producing a relaxation response, rather than by tensing up, which can make the pain more acute. Women learn to focus on a relaxing stimulus. The goal is to learn how to deal positively with pain and to relax at the onset of a contraction.
The Bradley method, which is sometimes known as “husband coached childbirth,” is based on the principle that childbirth should be as natural as possible and involve no medication or medical interventions. Women are taught to “tune into” their bodies in order to deal with the pain of childbirth. Mothers-to-be are taught muscle relaxation techniques, similar to Lamaze procedures, and good nutrition and exercise during pregnancy are seen as important to prepare for delivery.
Water birthing is a practice in which a woman enters a pool of warm water to give birth. The theory is that the warmth and buoyancy of the water is soothing, easing the length and pain of labor and childbirth, and the entry into the world is soothed for the infant, who moves from the watery environment of the womb to the birthing pool. Although there is some evidence that water birthing reduces pain and the length of labor, there is a risk of infection from the unsterile water
A cesarean delivery is a surgical birth; the doctor makes an incision in the mother’s abdomen and lifts the baby out of the uterus. Cesareans have always been warranted by medical emergencies such as , premature separation of the placenta from the uterus, or serious maternal infection(for example, the herpes simplex 2 virus, which can infect the baby during a vaginal delivery.) Cesareans are also justified in breech births, in which the baby risks head injury or anoxia.
The operation itself is safe, mother and baby require more time for recovery. Anesthetics may have crossed the placenta, making cesarean newborns sleepy and unresponsive and putting them at increased risk for breathing difficulties.
To learn about the Prenatal development, click here.
- Robert. S. Feldman. (2017). Development Across the Lifespan. (8th ed.). Pearson Education.
- Laura. E. Berk. (2018). Development Through the Lifespan (7th ed.). Pearson Education.