What Is Parturition?

Parturition refers to the process of giving birth.
Mothers sometimes deliver babies surgically through a C-section.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2014
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Parturition is a less well-known term for labor and delivery or giving birth. It is used not just for humans, but in many species that bear live young. For sake of convenience it may be best to understand birth as it occurs in humans.

Labor and delivery are frequently separated into several staged periods, one of which typically takes place long before mothers begin more strenuous parts of parturition. In fact, the first part of labor usually won’t take place in a hospital, unless labor is being induced. For several weeks to several months, women begin the process of softening the cervix through mini-contractions called Braxton-Hicks contractions. As labor nears, these can become more intense, though they are usually less difficult to bear than later contractions, and they work to help dilate the cervix to approximately three centimeters (1.18 inches).

Once this stage of parturition is reached, more active labor begins with steady contractions that continue the opening of the cervix. The time this takes varies with each woman, though often it is longest in those undergoing first labor, and may take a shorter time in subsequent labors. While typical, this is by no means a rule, and each labor is incredibly unique.

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As the cervix reaches full dilation, the baby begins to move out of uterus and into the birth canal. This is called expulsion but many women may know it better as “pushing.” Expulsion is a little more accurate since it accounts for not just pushing, but also eventual exit of the baby from the vagina, when pushing stops. Again, there is no set time period to this process and it may occur quickly or very slowly, depending on a number of factors.

The last part of parturition is delivery of the placenta, which, in a normal birth, takes place after a baby is born. This may take a little while after birth. It is not associated with the pain of cervix dilation or pushing stages.

In all, people often describe three or four stages of parturition. The early cervix softening is called latent. Stages two through four can be named dilation, expulsion, and placenta delivery. It’s important to point out that there are many things that may, of necessity, interrupt or change this process.

If labor is induced, doctors could speed up the latent stage by using prostaglandin gel that softens the cervix to the necessary three or greater centimeters. Dilation could also be quickened with medications to induce labor, by breaking the bag of waters or with both methods. Sometimes women deliver babies without expulsion and they could need c-sections, or surgical removal of a child, instead of having the baby pass through the birth canal. It can be said that while there is a general expected trend in the way each childbirth will go, there is really no predicting the outcome for each individual mom. In fact, the only predictable factor of parturition may be variance.

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