We've all been through it but none of us can remember it. Here's what a baby experiences as he embarks on his journey to join the human race.
Mum will be: Experiencing light contractions about 20 minutes apart, which will gradually come closer together until they're every five minutes.
Baby will be: Pressing his head into the birth canal to start the dilation of the cervix (opening of the neck of the womb).
As mum goes into labour she will be producing lots of the love hormone, oxytocin, which puts the baby in a content, calm mood. Hopefully he'll remain that way.
"Once your waters have broken if there are traces of meconium [the baby's fecal matter] in the fluid, it can be an indication of baby being distressed," explains Joyce Milne, a nurturing birth certified doula (www.doulababyabudhabi.com). If this happens, mum will be monitored closely, but most of the time there's nothing to worry about. Babies continue to move during labour and will probably take the odd 40-minute nap.
How to help baby: "Mum should stay at home as long as possible to encourage oxytocin production, as you tend to be more comfortable in your own surroundings than a hospital environment. Plus, staying at home can reduce the chance of unnecessary interventions," explains Dru Campbell, a senior midwife at Health Bay Polyclinic in Dubai (www.healthbayclinic.com).
Mum will be: Having more powerful contractions that may come as often as every three to four minutes and may last for up to 90 seconds a time.
Baby will be: Getting a bit squashed. A baby gets all of his oxygen from his mother's blood vessels in the placenta, which means when he is squeezed during a contraction he receives slightly less oxygen. But he is well equipped to cope with this.
In fact, he's largely unbothered: "Babies can actually have sleep patterns during contractions," says Campbell.
If a mum decides to have pethidine or other opiate drugs as a pain reliever, she will feel drowsy and, in turn, her baby will feel drowsy, too. "An unmedicated birth, which is a key component in baby's mood and stress levels, can be a very positive experience for mum and baby alike," says Milne. "Babies who haven't been medicated are born alert rather than sleepy and are keen to find the breast and feed."
How to help baby: "If mum gets too wound up her baby can become stressed," warns Milne. Hormones produced by these emotions, cortisol and adrenalin, cross the placenta and can halt labour. To relax, mums could try visualisation. Picture some thing or some place that makes you feel relaxed and safe.
Mum will be: Possibly feeling shaky, shivery or sick. Contractions will now be two or three minutes apart as the cervix works to become fully dilated.
Baby will be: A bit surprised that the walls are caving in on him, but he's unlikely to be in any pain. "It appears that the neural connections that would lead a baby to interpret sensations as 'pain' may not be developed at the time of labour," says Dr Anne Deans, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, England.
How to help baby: "This is when mums should breathe and give baby oxygen for the final minutes before the 'launch'," advises Milne. Focus on breathing rhythmically to maximise the amount of oxygen available to you and your baby.
Mum will be: Working hard as contractions come every couple of minutes and she is focused on pushing baby down the birth canal.
Baby will be: Trying to get on with the job in hand. Posterior, transverse and breech babies tend to have a harder, longer experience of labour because they're not in the ideal position for dilation and for moving down the birth canal. All babies, however, are physiologically prepared for the narrow journey. "Because the plates of his skull aren't fixed, his skull is able to 'mould' to the shape of the birth canal as he travels through it," explains Deans.
How to help baby: Use gravity. You don't want your baby to be pushing uphill, which is what it's like if you lie on your back. It's much easier for you and your baby if you're on all fours, in a pool or semi-reclining.
Mum will be: Feeling a burning sensation as the baby's head crowns. After a couple more contractions, his head will come through, then the baby's shoulders and head will turn sideways before he is fully born.
Baby will be: Feeling a tight squeeze and getting ready to breathe. "The pressure on your baby's body as he squeezes through the narrow birth canal is actually helpful in preparing him to live outside the uterus," says Deans. "The compression expels fluid and mucus from his lungs and also prevents him from breathing and inhaling fluid and blood as he passes through the birth canal. This all helps to prepare him to take his first breath."
The environment he is born into can be a shock. "Research has shown that babies born into calm, dimly lit, environments are calmer than babies born into bright, cold labour rooms," says Campbell.
How to help baby: Have skin-to-skin contact. "This will calm your baby down, help to regulate his heart and respiratory rate, keep him warm and start the hormonal process for breastfeeding," explains Campbell.