by Christa Melnyk Hines
Through each step of pregnancy, you’re not only mothering your growing baby, you’re preparing emotionally and physically for the final, most challenging leg of pregnancy’s marathon – labor and delivery. Wondering what to expect? How to cope?
First, discuss any anxieties or fears that you may be experiencing surrounding labor and delivery with your healthcare provider.
“They have seen it all and can often offer a lot of reassurance,” says Dr. Tara Chettiar, OB/GYN. “Remember that you’re going into this as a team and everyone has the same goal: healthy mom and healthy baby.”
Considerations before labor.
“A written birth plan serves as a guide for the physician caring for you as well as the labor and delivery room nurses in helping your birth process be a pleasant experience,” says Dr. David S. McKee, Jr. of Birmingham Obstetrics/Gynecology at St. Vincent’s.
“At St. Vincent’s Birmingham, we offer a program called Monogram Maternity that serves as a resource for pregnant mothers to discuss with a registered labor room nurse what her birth wishes are,” McKee adds.
Also decide where you’re going to have your baby. These days, expectant parents are fortunate to have multiple choices of birth centers and prestigious hospitals with highly trained, experienced medical staff.
Consider a class. Childbirth classes are strongly encouraged, especially for first time moms and definitely for the first-time dad,
“Theses are often childbirth education classes that provide the expectant parents with information about the labor process itself and the delivery process,” McKee says. “These classes often prepare the couple for what is about to change in their life and help allay anxiety and fears about the process,” McKee adds.
How do I know I’m in labor?
“I always tell my patients that if you are not sure you are in labor, then you are not!” says McKee.
Many women feel Braxton-Hicks contractions throughout their pregnancies, especially beginning around the 20-week mark. These contractions are more of an uncomfortable nuisance than painful. They’re also characterized as more erratic than active labor, tending to last 10 to 20 seconds every 10 to 15 minutes. If you’re bothered by Braxton-Hicks contractions, make sure you’re getting enough fluids.
“The most common cause of false labor is dehydration and pregnant women get dehydrated much easier than non-pregnant women,” Chettiar says.
If you choose to deliver your baby in a hospital, one of the first people you’ll meet will be a labor and delivery nurse who will guide you through the process, review your health history and learn about your birth plan. The staff will also check your blood pressure and monitor your baby’s heartbeat using a Doppler or fetal monitor.
Time to push.
During active labor, your emotions may run the gamut too.
“There are many emotional challenges, such as despair, hopelessness, inadequacy, elation and a sense of accomplishment,” says labor and delivery nurse Genna DeBrabander.
While this is the most physically and emotionally taxing part of the labor process, by the end of all of your hard work you’ll be rewarded with a baby in your arms.
After the delivery of your placenta, you may experience cramping as your uterus contracts and some perineum pain and swelling.
“Topical medications, oral medications and ice packs are great to aid these discomforts,” DeBrabander says.
As always, if you have any concerns during your pregnancy or questions about the labor and delivery process, be sure to consult with your healthcare practitioner.
Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two sons. Christa is the author of Confidently Connected: A Mom’s Guide to a Satisfying Social Life. Carol Muse Evans contributed to this story.
- Schedule tours of the birth facilities where your provider delivers
- Learn about the facility’s labor and delivery policies and procedures
- Discuss your preferences with your physician
- Write a birth plan to bring with you to the hospital
- Be aware of your options and plan for the unexpected