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Preparing for Your Labor and Baby’s Birth

New parents have many different options to choose from when thinking about labor and their birthing experience. Hospitals, birth centers, and home births are all safe options when paired with trained health professionals and the proper care. Obstetricians, midwives, and doulas are all available to help make the process as smooth as possible. Becoming informed about the options available to you is the first step - there are plenty of useful resources to help you along the way.

Some parents find it useful to develop a “birth plan” before their due date. This type of document outlines all of your preferences so that you can prepare for the type of birth experience you want in advance, and share your plans and preferences with your partner and health professional. Here are some resources you can use to help create one of your own:

Despite the images we see in movies, it is not always so obvious when you’ve gone into labor. Here are some signs and symptoms to watch for:

  • Your baby drops and gets into position
  • You see some blood and mucus. You may notice a stringy discharge that may be clear, or contain some blood, indicating the passage of your mucus plug.
  • Your water breaks
  • You feel a burst of energy
  • Your cervix begins to widen, stretch, or soften
  • You notice contractions that happen at regular intervals and become stronger over time. They may start out feeling like cramps or lower back pain.

Learn more about how to tell when labor begins here.

There are a few different types of birthing options:

  • Vaginal birth:
    • This is the most common type of birth where the baby is pushed out of the womb through the vaginal canal.
  • Cesarean section (also known as a c-section):
    • This surgical procedure is a safe option if the baby cannot be delivered vaginally. Instead, the baby is removed through a surgical incision in the mother's abdomen and uterus. In certain circumstances, a C-section is scheduled in advance. In others, it's done in response to an unforeseen complication. Some reasons for a c-section include:
      • Birth of multiples (twins, triplets, etc.) or extremely large baby
      • Previous surgery, c-sections, or other uterine conditions
      • Breech (bottom first) or transverse (sideways) position
      • Placenta previa or other placental complications
      • Fibroid or other large obstruction
  • Vacuum extraction:
    • In this case, a vacuum is used to pull the baby out of the womb. An instrument that looks like a small suction cup is placed on the baby’s head, and the baby is guided through the vaginal canal. While this may create a bruise on the baby’s head, it is safe and the bruise will go away after a few days.
  • Forceps delivery:
    • During this birthing process, a tool that looks like a pair of tongs is used to gently grab the baby’s head and pull it out of the vaginal canal. This method is also safe for the baby.

Learn more about different birthing options here.

During labor, some medications or other types of medical intervention might be recommended by your health professional, including pain management options or medicines that can “induce” or move labor along. The most typical types of intervention during labor include:

Inducing Labor

Labor can be induced by the rupturing the amniotic sac, which essentially means the health professional will artificially cause your water to break. Labor can also be induced through several different medications through the use of prostaglandins or oxytocin. Learn more about labor induction here.

Pain management

The use of pain medication to ease the pain of labor is a common and safe practice, but it is a personal choice. There are many different types of pain medication available, including:

  • Epidural block: This type of pain relief is a local pain reliever, meaning it only acts on a certain area of the body, in this case, the lower body. It is injected into the body in an area of the lower back outside of the spinal cord.
  • Spinal block: This type of pain relief is also a local pain reliever. It is injected into the spinal cord and is commonly used in c-sections.
  • Opioids: Opioids can also be used during labor. Although they take effect quickly, they will not completely stop the pain of delivery.
  • Nitrous Oxide: Nitrous Oxide is another option available during delivery. While this medication does not take away the pain completely, it will make it more tolerable and help to reduce anxiousness.

Learn more about pain relief here.

Assisted Labor

Assisted labor essentially includes use of medical instruments to support guiding the baby out of the vagina. As we discussed in the previous section, this can include vacuum extraction or forceps delivery. Learn more here

Labor and planning for the birth of your baby can be scary, but going into the process with information and preferences can ease your mind and keep you and your baby healthy. As you approach your delivery date, closely monitor yourself and gather the support of friends, family, and your medical team to make sure your delivery goes as smoothly as possible. Everyone has a unique experience with pregnancy and labor - all you can do is your best!

23 December 2017
Updated: 01/24/18

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