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Childbirth is an exciting experience. Little by little, they prepare the way for the unborn child to come into the world. We give you an overview of the different forms of labor and their functions.
During a contraction, the uterine muscles contract like a spasm and then relax again. If the expectant mother places a hand on her abdomen, she can feel this change. A contraction is triggered when the pregnancy hormones oxytocin and prostaglandins reach a certain concentration in the uterus. The first contractions already occur during pregnancy. In a sense, this trains the uterus for birth. These barely noticeable and rarely painful muscle movements do not affect the cervix.
About three to four weeks before the birth, irregular contractions begin. They ensure that the fetal head positions itself in front of the cervix, with the pregnant woman’s abdomen lowering. The stronger preterm contractions occur in the last few days before the birth. Women experience them differently, such as extreme pulling, similar to back pain, or colicky. The birth finally begins with the opening contractions. They are regular and more intense and gradually open the cervix. The wider it is, the more frequent and stronger the contractions: initially every ten to 15 minutes over a period of about two hours, then every two to three minutes. During this phase, many women are helped by a full bath: the warm water and special bath additives relax them.
Soon It’s Over
With the expulsion contractions, the baby passes through the pelvis. At the end of this phase, the pushing contractions begin. These are the most violent contractions. The woman now feels a strong urge to push that can no longer be controlled. This part of the birth lasts about half an hour to an hour – then the baby is born! The postpartum contractions, which last for several days, finally cause the placenta to detach, be expelled and the uterus to gradually shrink. Breastfeeding supports these postpartum contractions: When the newborn sucks on the breast, the pituitary gland produces more of one of the hormones that triggers labor. This is why we also speak of breastfeeding contractions.
This Brings Relief
In childbirth preparation courses, midwives show expectant mothers important breathing techniques and relaxation exercises that ease the contractions before and during birth. It is very important that pregnant women do not fear them and do not tense up. Otherwise, labor can be very painful. Many women are supported by psychological care, and some are helped by acupuncture treatment a few weeks before the due date. However, no one can predict how the delivery will go and how a woman will cope with the pain of childbirth. That is why it is advisable to find out in advance what pain-relieving procedures and birth methods a clinic offers. There are now various painkillers and antispasmodic drugs that do not harm the baby. These include so-called peridural anesthesia – abbreviated PDA: the doctor injects an anesthetic into the space between the spinal cords and can adjust the dose at any time. The contractions remain noticeable without the woman feeling any pain. About a quarter of women giving birth today opt for this method. An epidural is advantageous if the doctor has to perform a spontaneous cesarean section, surgically remove the placenta or treat birth injuries: The woman does not need additional anesthesia now.
When Problems Occur
Often, preterm labor is merely a warning from the body that the expectant mother has taken on too much. Sometimes, however, premature contractions occur in which the cervix begins to open much too early. In this case, the doctor has to administer labor-inhibiting drugs. A new drug with almost no side effects and containing the active ingredient atosiban is a great gain here. It stops premature labor and can thus prevent a premature birth. Contraction-inhibiting drugs are also given to women who have uncoordinated and thus ineffective opening contractions. Doctors also use these drugs if there are signs that the baby is not getting enough oxygen during birth. In this way, they stop the contractions for a while and allow the baby a “breather.” If no opening contractions occur beyond the delivery date, or if the contractions are too weak at birth, doctors help with an oxytocic agent. It contains the labor-inducing hormones that the female body produces itself.