So it’s getting close to the big day – how exciting for you! Labor and delivery can be a scary and nerve-wracking experience, or it can be a wonderful occasion. It’s just in how you look at it.
You may have heard labor stories of first labors, but try not to worry or be stressed out. (Fear and anxiety actually prolong labor.) Focus on the little bundle of joy that you’ll be holding in your arms at the end of it all.
Here are a few tips to help you have an easier, more positive childbirth experience.
Keep the Birth Plan Short and Simple
You don’t need a detailed birth plan. Be flexible to changes. Complications can occur when you least expect it. You might plan for a natural, vaginal birth, but your baby might be breech and it’s safer to have a C-section. Or you may find that your contractions are too strong and too intense for you to handle, and you suddenly want an epidural in the middle of labor.
When writing out your birth plan, keep it simple. Use bullet points and keep it under a page. Just lay out what you want in an easy-to-read format. Your healthcare team won’t have time to read a detailed 2-3 pager. Make sure you give your birth plan to your OB/GYN ahead of time, so they know what you’d like.
Stay at Home for As Long as Possible
Labor is broken up into two phases: early and active labor. During early labor, your contractions will begin, and your cervix will start to efface (soften) and dilate (open up). Early labor can last from a few hours to a few days, depending on the woman. For first-time pregnancies, labor tends to take longer. You don’t need to go to the hospital until you’ve reached active labor (when you are 4 centimeters dilated, and your contractions are hard to handle or closer than five minutes apart).
Obviously, you’ll want to listen to your midwife or OB. If they want you at the hospital sooner, then head to the hospital. But as a rule of thumb, you should stay at home for as long as possible. Don’t rush to the hospital when you feel that first contraction. You’ll probably be sent home to wait. Some hospitals allow you to walk around during early labor, but a hospital sofa is not as comfortable as your own couch.
Head to the hospital when your contractions are very painful, or they are five minutes apart or less. And if your water breaks, head to the hospital right away! Don’t delay!
The Fetal Monitor Doesn’t Have to be Attached the Entire Time
Fetal monitors are helpful during labor and delivery. They can track your baby’s heartbeat, so your doctor or midwife can intervene in an emergency situation – i.e. your baby goes into fetal distress. If you’re high risk, fetal monitors are a must-have. But most women don’t need to be strapped to a fetal monitor their entire labor.
After you get admitted to the hospital, you’ll probably stay in bed with a fetal monitor wrapped around your belly for half an hour. After that, if everything is fine, the monitor can be removed. Some hospital staff will keep it on your belly, so ASK and see if they can remove it. The nursing staff can continue to monitor your baby’s heartbeat periodically with a Doppler stethoscope.
Don’t be Shy; Ask about What’s Happening
At any point during labor and delivery, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor and nurses questions about what’s happening. If they’re recommending a medical procedure or intervention – like artificially breaking your water – and you’re nervous about it, ask them if that procedure is really necessary. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Do I really need is? Can my baby be born healthy without it?”
In an emergency situation, you should trust your doctor or midwife. If you need an episiotomy or forceps to get your baby out, because his heart rate is dropping and he’s going into fetal distress, trust your caregiver to do what’s best for you and your baby.
Expect Delivery to be Messy
Labor and delivery is messy. There’s a lot of blood that’s going to come out during and after delivery. Some moms describe it as a “gush,” and there’s the afterbirth (placenta) that must be delivered after you give birth, too.
When you’re pushing, don’t be embarrassed if you accidentally push out a bowel movement, along with your baby. Labor nurses and doctors are used to this; it happens a lot.
Here’s something else you should know about labor and delivery – you might throw up. Some women do vomit during labor. It’s not pleasant, but once you see your newborn baby, it will all be worth it.