FROM AN OB
Najia Lawrence, MD, FACOG, is a board-certified OB/GYN with North Georgia OB/GYN Specialists in Woodstock, Georgia, and is affiliated with Northside Hospital-Cherokee. She has delivered nearly 2,000 babies over the course of her 12-year career.
1. Trust your providers.
You chose your providers for a reason. Trust their experience and the advice they give you. If you are concerned about something that is happening to you or your baby, ask questions to get clarification.
2. Tour the hospital where you’ll be delivering.
Schedule a tour at least six to eight weeks beforehand to make sure you feel comfortable with the facility and the staff before the big day. Pay special attention to some of the options your facility allows—like wireless monitoring and letting moms be mobile during labor—and find out what their visitor policy is.
3. Have an open mind.
Labor is a fluctuating process that changes hour to hour and minute to minute. If there are certain ideas or goals that are important to you, share them with your labor team. Otherwise, just relax. Stress makes everything more difficult and painful.
FROM A MIDWIFE
Brittany Mehta, CNM, practices at Lawndale Christian Health Center and delivers at Mount Sinai and Saint Anthony Hospitals in Chicago. She’s delivered more than 130 babies and been a midwife for two years.
1. Have a support person.
Whether it’s a supportive partner or (better yet) a doula, having someone with you during labor and delivery who can empower and support you is key. Continuous labor support has been shown to improve birth outcomes (for example, lowering your chances of a C-section and other interventions) and decrease pain.
2. Hang tight at home.
Labor at home as long as you can. Being with your people, food, shower and clothes should help your labor progress more comfortably. Ideally, you want to arrive at your birthing location in active labor (6 centimeters dilated or more). If you’ve been contracting regularly but aren’t sure if it’s time to head in, you can stop by your care provider’s office during business hours for a quick check. The caveat: If you’ve had several babies and fast deliveries, you have a medical reason for an induction of labor, or your water breaks (which means you should be evaluated sooner than later according to your birth location’s policy), disregard the above advice, and get to your birthing location pronto!
3. Limit your visitors.
The moments after birth are vital for bonding and breastfeeding initiation. Be selfish with this time for your new family, and don’t hesitate to ask your loved ones to delay their visits. The worst is seeing a newborn baby being passed around from person to person without being held by the people who matter most: mama and her partner.
FROM AN ANESTHESIOLOGIST
Edward Yaghmour, MD, is a board-certified anesthesiologist affiliated with Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and chair of the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Committee on Obstetric Anesthesia. He administers more than 1,000 epidurals annually.
1. There are a number of pain relief options available.
Ask to speak with a physician anesthesiologist to determine which methods for managing labor pain are best for you. Epidurals are still the most common type of pain relief administered during labor and can take about 10 minutes to work. Other pain relief options include combined spinal epidurals, spinals, analgesics (pain medications), nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and general anesthesia (typically used only during emergency cesarean deliveries). Keep in mind that complementary methods, such as massage, breathing techniques and visualization, may be available with varying results.
2. Communication is key.
Insist on delivering your child at a location where the relationship and communication between obstetricians, midwives, labor and delivery nurses, and physician anesthesiologists (including all anesthesiology providers) are excellent and promote a team approach.
3. Be adaptable to change.
Often the type of pain relief provided is dictated by the labor process itself, not only personal preference. To have an enjoyable labor and delivery experience, you may choose to use none, some or more than one pain management method depending on your labor progress. It’s also acceptable (or may be necessary) to change pain management methods.
FROM A REGISTERED NURSE
Sarah MacDonald, RN, BS, is a labor and delivery nurse at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital with 25 years of experience. She’s been a part of more than 1,000 births.
1. There is an evolution in labor that you cannot imagine before going through it.
There are decisions you will make during labor that, if I told you about right now, you would not believe. Remain open to the process, and stay in the moment to stay calm.
2. Should you decide to take advantage of pain medication, only you will know when it is time.
If you have to ask others whether it’s a good time, consider waiting until something inside you says definitively that it is time.
3. If you write a birth plan, think of it as a wish list.
Use a template from your health care provider or an online version. Introduce yourself and your labor partner(s) by name, and start by expressing gratitude to the professionals who will be attending your birth. Convey your commitment to having a healthy mother and a healthy baby. From there, share your preferences for your labor and delivery. Tell us if there are certain comfort techniques that you want to use, like the bath, a birth ball or dim lighting. Let us know if there are certain words you want or don’t want used or places on your body that you’d like massaged. Whatever you do, keep it to just one sheet of paper. (Single-spaced and double-sided is fine.)
FROM A DOULA
Gemma Manino is a birth doula, lactation counselor and the owner of Hardwick Birth Services in Frederick, Maryland. She’s been supporting mothers through pregnancy and beyond for more than three years.
1. Embarrassing things may happen, but worrying about them might inhibit labor.
Labor is a beautiful time. It brings life into the world and makes you a mom. It is also messy. Many of my clients worry about what might happen during labor. Yes, you may do some embarrassing things, but (a) it is nothing your providers haven’t seen before, and (b) worrying about it can inhibit your labor from progressing. Tensing up and trying to fight the natural progress your body is making can make labor more painful and slow things down.
2. Prenatal breastfeeding education is important.
Many clients are surprised that breastfeeding does not always come easily. As a lactation counselor, I find that being familiar with the mechanisms and fundamentals of breastfeeding helps clients when the time comes for the baby to latch. Prenatal education can help inform you of things that can affect milk supply, allay any concerns you might have and provide you with a resource to contact should issues arise postpartum.
3. There is no right or wrong way to give birth.
My clients and I discuss how they want the birth to be and what their expectations are, but there are some elements that are outside of our control. Whether your labor and delivery match your birth plan or stray far from it, whether you end up going drug-free or having interventions you didn’t plan on, whether your child is born at home in the tub or in a hospital via cesarean, you have birthed a baby. That is always the most important thing.