As we celebrated my Son’s second birthday this past weekend, I began reminiscing on my labor & delivery experience. To say that it was a life altering event is certainly an understatement. Although it was painful and difficult to bear, my labor & delivery changed me as a person and allowed me to give birth to the sweetest, most wonderful little boy, thus making the entire process, completely and utterly worth it!
I wanted to share my personal tips for getting through labor & delivery with first-time Mom’s who may have a million questions running through their mind. I know I did! For example, I remember practically begging other mom’s to tell me what labor felt like (although each time, I was left with a vague description that left much to be answered). I also had other questions related to what their labor experience was generally like. I must have talked to hundreds by the time my day finally came. It wasn’t until I experienced it for myself that I fully understood the process!
It’s important to speak with your doctor or midwife to figure out what works best for you. These tips are for people with normal, healthy, and low-risk pregnancies with the assumption that those who are reading this are planning on having a vaginal birth. If you have a scheduled C-section, many of these tips will not apply to you. Each person, circumstance, and pregnancy is different so results will of course vary and overall experiences are completely subjective.
These tips all applied to my personal labor & delivery story and I hope they can help you as well:
- Keep an open mind. I put this one first because I believe it to be the most important. Although It’s great to be prepared, labor and delivery is extremely unpredictable and plans can change at any time. It’s important to keep an open mind and go in with the understanding that although you’d like for it to unfold a certain way, things may not go according to plan. I had taken the classes, read the books, and talked to endless people. NOTHING could prepare me for the 4 days of un-medicated, slow progressing labor that I experienced. Nothing.
- Have a birthing plan. In addition to keeping an open mind, It’s important to have a birthing plan ready for how you’d IDEALLY like things to go. Type up a list of requests and wishes and give to the nurse on call or your midwife/doctor upon arriving at the hospital (or days/weeks prior). For example, I requested that the nurse place my Son on my chest BEFORE cleaning him off to ensure immediate skin-to-skin bonding. Your birthing plan may include requests that you may otherwise not be able to communicate while you’re in active labor (no one likes to have conversations when they’re 9 centimeters dilated and screaming from the pain).
- Don’t over-pack. The hospital will typically provide most of things you need such as diapers, change of clothes, blankets, spit up cloths, maxi pads, and even formula. If it helps, check in with your hospital prior to your actually delivery day and make sure they have everything that you need. I’d suggest bringing at least 1 or 2 changes of clothes since the outfit you arrive in will likely NOT be the outfit you leave with (hello blood). In addition, one outfit for baby to leave in should suffice.
- Stay at home for as long as you can. Do NOT rush to the hospital after your first contraction no matter how strong it feels. Try your very best to labor at home and avoid going to the hospital until your contractions are at least 5 minutes apart and hard to talk through for about 2 hours. One thing that doctors will likely not tell you is that even if your water breaks, you still have up to 24 hours before you are REQUIRED to get to a hospital. I labored at home for 4 days. During that time, my cervix had adequate time to open up on it’s own so that by the time we got to the hospital and had my water manually broken, my labor progressed pretty quickly. Now of course, if you are a high-risk patient, you may have other instructions from your Doctor that you are required to follow.
- Do not be afraid. I know It’s easier said than done. For months prior to my due date, I was terrified (to say the least) about labor & delivery. What I learned is that being tense and afraid actually prevents your cervix from opening up. Think of what It’s like to go to a bathroom and urinate with someone right outside of your stall listening to you…many people will likely tense up their muscles, preventing the urine from being released by the urethral sphincter. This same concept can be applied to our cervix during labor. The more relaxed we are, the more easily and quickly our cervix will dilate and efface. This is just another reason for why It’s so important to labor at home for as long as possible as being in the hospital can trigger anxiety in some people such as myself.
- Eat. I cannot stress this one enough. Many Doctor’s forbid their laboring patients to eat during active labor and for good reason of course (use of medicine, possible surgery etc). However, It’s important that you eat a big meal in the early phases of labor and snack on easy to digest foods every hour or so leading up to active labor and beyond. During transition labor when your cervix dilates from 7 to 10 centimeters, eating may be the last thing on your mind but try and stay hydrated by sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water or juice every few minutes. Labor & delivery is a an extremely tiring experience so you want to make sure you have the strength to get through it strong.
- Stay mobile. Try to walk around in between contractions or bounce on an exercise ball. When you get to a hospital, request that you only have the baby heart rate monitor attached intermittently (yes, if you’re low risk, they can likely do that) so that you can keep moving. What I noticed during my early labor was that each time I moved, I felt a contraction. When I was sitting still or relaxing, the contractions would stall and no real progress was made. If possible, request a room with a bathtub (if offered at your hospital) and get into it during your contractions. There’s something about the buoyancy in the water that helps your body relax, lowers blood pressure, and helps your cervix open and thin out nicely.
- Rest in between contractions. When the pain of contractions comes on, very few women are thinking about resting. However, labor is extremely tiring and most of our energy goes into the very last stage which is pushing the baby out. Therefore, It’s important to rest as much as you can especially in the early stages of labor when contractions are still somewhat fairly spaced out.
- Request an epidural if needed. Many doctors will tell you that you cannot get an epidural past a certain point. I remember asking for one at 9 centimeters so that I could simply get some rest before the pushing. Fortunately for me, the pushing started immediately after they put that damn epidural consent form in my hand to sign so I ended up skipping the epidural all together. It was nice to know that the option was available to me though regardless of how far along my labor was. It’s important to note that most hospitals will not administer the epidural if you are close to delivery simply because of the time it takes for the medicine to kick in. Of course, every hospital has a different protocol so this would be another good thing to check on before the big day comes.
- Remember that this is natural. The entire process of labor & delivery is completely natural and women have been giving birth to babies for ages. Now do things go wrong? sure. But luckily with the help of modern day medical intervention, women have many options available to them for a safe and healthy birth. The pain of labor and delivery is powerful but again, because it is a natural process, our bodies are equipped to handle it. It cannot be compared to pain from a broken limb simply because a broken limb is not considered a “natural” occurrence.
You can never be completely prepared but it helps to have a general idea on what may or may not work for you. Keep in mind that no matter HOW you end up birthing your child, the single most important thing is that both you and your baby end up healthy when all is said and done.
There is no “right” way to give birth to your child and each person will have their own unique story to tell after the fact, and that’s what makes the experience of labor & delivery that much more beautiful!