We asked an OB/GYN, a labor and delivery nurse, two doulas and a midwife to reflect on their years attending births and offer up some of their best advice on the labor process. Listen up!
Dawn Mandeville, MD, FACOG, resides in Atlanta and is an obstetrician/gynocologist at Atlanta Gynecology and Obstetrics. Births attended: over 1,500.
Karen Hinkle, CM, resides in Elizabethon, Tennessee, and is the owner of Mountain Midwifery Services. Births attended: nearly 700.
Carole Kramer Arsenault, RN, IBCLC, resides in Needham, Massachusetts, and is the author of The Baby Nurse Bible: Secrets Only a Baby Nurse Can Tell You about Having and Caring for Your Baby. Births attended: over 4,000.
Becky Rasmussen, CLD, CBE, resides in American Fork, Utah, and is president of MyBirthClass, LLC, the producers of the Perfectly Prepared: Prenatal Birthing & Fitness DVD/CD series. Births attended: nearly 100.
Crystal Mansell resides in Tucson, Arizona, where she is a labor and postpartum doula. Births attended: 10.
What do you wish you could tell women before they enter the delivery room?
Mandeville: “Some couples think that if they create a birth plan, then the labor and birth will go according to this ‘plan.’ I think that the phrase ‘birth plan’ is a misnomer because births don’t always go according to plan. Know your options, but trust that your birth professional’s goal is to guide you and your partner through this life-changing process and make sure that you and your baby are safe and healthy.”
Mansell: “Take childbirth and/or breastfeeding classes early in your pregnancy so you have time to research the many options that will be presented to you. Take the hospital tour.Make sure you really, really like the place that you choose to give birth and make sure you are familiar with their protocol.Just because something is protocol does not mean that it should be routine and does not mean that it is the right thing for you.”
Hinkle: “Knowledge is power. A lot of parents will leave everything up to the healthcare provider and health center staff, which often puts them at risk for surprises and feelings of inadequacy—especially in this age where family support is less common because of large physical distances. Parents should make sure to educate themselves on the processes of pregnancy, labor, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding and neonatal care.”
What are some of the most effective methods for dealing with pain during labor?
Kramer Arsenault: “Whether it is walking the labor floor, rocking in a chair, or sitting on a birthing ball, the more you move the better you will feel. Pain is an indicator that you need to change positions, so listen to your body.”
Hinkle: “Deep abdominal breathing is probably the best tool I have seen women use. And sometimes it’s a great idea to just let it all out with loud vocalizations.”
Mandeville: “I would have to say that regional anesthesia (epidural) is probably the most effective way to relieve labor and delivery pain. I try to tell women that they will not be thought of as any less a woman for getting an epidural. It is just one way to relieve pain and help you relax during labor so that you may be better equipped mentally and physically to push when it is time.”
What misconceptions about birth would you like to dispel?
Rasmussen: “Hollywood often portrays women in the pushing stage of labor as though they are enduring unbearable pain. This is completely inaccurate. Pushing is actually the most rewarding stage of labor. It’s at this juncture that women feel relieving progress and a significant release in pelvic pressure. The pushing stage literally expels the source of the pain.”
Hinkle: “As a midwife, I often get the questions, ‘What happens if …’ or, ‘Aren’t you taking responsibility for a potentially dangerous event?’ as if an emergency is waiting around every corner. But truly, even though I am also trained as a paramedic and nurse, my work as a midwife has been by far the most uneventful in regards to medical/emergency intervention. The human body does a pretty good job of getting us all here.”
Mansell: “There is a myth that labor and birth are relatively traumatic experiences, but they certainly don’t have to be. Prepare and educate yourself by communicating with your healthcare providers, taking classes, reading books, and staying fit, and you can be confident that welcoming your baby will be a wonderful experience.”