Pregnancy is the period of time in which a fetus develops within a woman’s uterus. Beginning with the first day of a woman’s last period and ending with birth, a typical pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. Major developments occur over the course of this time for both mother and baby. A pregnancy is usually divided out and discussed from a medical perspective according to trimester.

Many women will rely on an OB-GYN for their prenatal care. Regular check-ups, ultrasounds, testing, and other educational classes may all be part of this care regimen. Your doctor will discuss with you some ways to stay healthy during this time and will answer any questions you have regarding the process.

High Risk Pregnancy

A high-risk pregnancy is one in which the mother’s health or the health of the fetus is threatened. This can occur for a number of reasons, including maternal age, existing maternal health conditions, fetal conditions diagnosed during the pregnancy, or in the case of multiple births.

A high-risk pregnancy may require consultation with an OB-GYN physician who specializes in this type of care.

Labor and Delivery

When a woman “goes into labor,” her body begins the process of childbirth. The labor process consists of three stages, each with specific indicators to distinguish each stage:  labor, delivery of the baby, and delivery of the placenta.

The first stage of childbirth is the longest of the three phases. During this time, contractions begin and the cervix begins to dilate (or open up) to let the baby pass through. The membrane of the amniotic sack may tear and release fluid – this is commonly known as “water breaking” and often signals the start of active labor. The first stage ends when the cervix is fully dilated at 10 centimeters.

The second stage of labor begins after the cervix is fully dilated. This is the time in which the baby progresses through the birth canal and out of the vagina.

After the baby has been born and is fully out of the mother’s body, the third stage of labor begins. Commonly known as afterbirth, this is the time when the woman “delivers” the placenta after it separates from the uterine wall. Once the placenta is out of the body, the uterus contracts and any post-birth stitching, medication or treatment is performed.

Vaginal Birth

During labor, a woman’s cervix begins to dilate so the baby can travel through the birth canal. Once the cervix has completely opened to about 10 centimeters, the woman can begin to push. This effort, along with the natural contractions occurring in the body, force the baby through the birth canal and out of the vagina.

Cesarean Delivery

A Cesarean delivery, or C-section, differs from natural birth in that it requires some form of surgery to deliver the infant. If there are pregnancy complications or potential safety risks from a patient giving birth, a c-section may be required. Some doctors will recommend a c-section in advance of labor; other times, complications arise during the labor process and require an unplanned c-section. In the United States, about 30% of babies are born via cesarean section.

Because they are surgical procedures, c-sections require a woman to undergo some form of anesthesia. This may include a local anesthetic, such as an epidural or spinal block. Using local anesthetics allows the woman to stay awake during birthing process. The use of general anesthesia, in which the patient is put into a sleep-like, unconscious state, is used less frequently because it tends to pose a higher safety risk.

Once the patient is anesthetized, the surgeon will make two incisions: one through the abdomen and one through the uterus. The doctor can then remove the infant from this opening in the woman’s body and cut the umbilical cord to separate the child from the mother. The doctor will then close up the incisions, and the procedure is complete.

As with any surgery, there are potential risks to having a c-section, including:

  • Infection
  • Loss of blood and/or clotting issues
  • Internal injuries
  • Complications from anesthesia

Typical recovery from a c-section can lasts a few weeks.