Labor and delivery have three stages. In the first stage, the cervix is being dilated and softened. She may moan, meow, or pant during labor. She may make frequent trips to the litter box, and she may show nesting behavior such as rearranging the towels in the nesting box. She may lick her mammary and perineal area more vigorously. Abdominal contractions are not evident in this stage. She may be restless, secretive, and try to hide. This is why the box is in a quiet area in the house. The lights can be dimmed if she is more comfortable. Stage 1 may take 12-24 hours and ends when the first kitten passes into the pelvic canal.
The queen is able to delay parturition, if she is moved to a strange place or strange people or animals are around. She may also stop delivery for several hours between kittens, if she perceives any disturbance to the delivery area.
Stage two starts when she begins actively pushing to deliver the first kitten. The first kitten tends to take the longest, as it needs to fully dilate the cervix. She may deliver standing, laying, or squatting. The abdominal muscles assist in the delivery. She should deliver within 15-30 minutes of the start of contractions. Normally, 3-5 strong contractions are necessary to deliver each kitten.
The amniotic fluid (water bubble) is seen first. The kitten may come head first or rear paws first. Either way is normal. As soon as the kitten is born, the queen should remove the sac from its face. She will clean herself, the newborn, and the birthing area. Her licking stimulates the kitten to breath and start moving. The kitten should be breathing and moving within seconds. The queen will tear the umbilical cord an inch or two away from the kitten's body. If she does not, clamp the cord between two hemostats and cut it or tear it between the hemostats. If the umbilical cord bleeds, tie it off with the suture. Kittens have gotten tangled in the umbilical cord, and if it dries tangled around the leg, they may lose the leg. Make sure to remove the placenta and cord, if the queen does not. If you need to pick up the kitten, keep it in a head-down position to allow fluid to drain out of the lungs and nasal passages.
A kitten that had a difficult time being born may be weak or not breathing when finally delivered. The bulb syringe should be used to clear the airways. Some breeders will 'swing' the kitten downward between their own legs. Be very careful if you elect to do so. Kittens have been thrown across rooms when the person loses hold of them. The pressure of the swing helps to clear the airways, but it will also swing the brain against the skull. When fluid has been removed from the air passages, the kitten needs to be roughly but carefully rubbed with a cloth to stimulate the breathing. Try CPR on a nonbreathing kitten for at least 5 minutes to see if it will breathe. Some kittens, especially if born by c-section, need 20 minutes of work to survive. Once the kitten starts giving lusty cries and moving, the immediate danger should be past.
At this point, the kitten can be presented to the mother. Allowing the mother to lick the kitten will continue to stimulate respirations.
Kittens may attempt to start nursing right away or may take several minutes to recover from birth. Some queens do not nurse kittens until all the kittens are delivered.
Stage three is the delivery of the placenta. Each kitten has a placenta and it is usually delivered with the kitten. Keep track of the placentas on the notepad, as she may have two kittens and then two placentas. The queen will usually eat the placenta. After two or three, the owner can remove some of them to prevent her from eating them all. The placenta does offer nourishment to the queen, but too many may cause diarrhea or vomiting.
She will repeat the second and third stages of labor until all the kittens are born. Some queens will have all the kittens within an hour and others will take several hours for each kitten. Expect about 2-6 hours to deliver all the kittens. If she is resting comfortably and caring for the kittens that have already arrived, just watch her. If she is continuing to contract and does not deliver another kitten within half an hour, contact your veterinarian right away.
She may like a drink of fresh water or small amount of food during labor and delivery.
Allow the kittens to nurse between deliveries, if the queen will allow. This will stimulate release of the hormone oxytocin which will help in the delivery of the next kitten as well as the "let down" of milk. The kittens are only able to absorb the colostrum through their intestines for the first 24 hours of life. After that time, they are no longer able to get any immunity from the dam. The queen should be licking their perineal area and abdomen to stimulate urination and defecation. She will continue this for 2-3 weeks.