Childbirth is one of the most transformative experiences a person can go through. Each woman’s experience can vary greatly depending on many factors, and it is a topic that often comes with many questions. Whether you’re pregnant with your first baby or you’ve had children before, there’s a lot to learn about labor and childbirth.
How is ‘childbirth’ defined?
Childbirth is the process by which a baby is born from the mother’s uterus. Your body will endure a series of both physical and emotional changes that will allow the baby to pass through the birth canal and into the world.
Having a Cesarean section? Often called a C-section, this is a surgery whereby your baby is taken out of your uterus through your abdomen. Some C-sections are planned ahead of time while some happen emergently if a vaginal birth does not go as expected. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re any less of a mom if you end up having a C-section!
What are the stages of labor?
There are three stages of labor:
1) early labor (comprised of the latent, active, and transition phases),
2) the pushing stage, and
3) the third stage, which actually begins after the baby is born and includes the birth of the placenta.
During early labor, your cervix will dilate in size from zero to ten centimeters (about the size of a large bagel). During the pushing stage, you will push your baby through the birth canal. After your baby is born, you will also deliver your placenta, which is the extra organ your body grew during pregnancy to provide oxygen and nutrients to your baby.
What are some natural pain relief options during labor?
Natural pain relief options during labor can include: breathing exercises, mediation, massage, warm baths or showers, and using a birthing ball for comfort. Some women also enjoy acupressure, aromatherapy, or hypnotherapy.
Be sure to use your partner! They can help by guiding your breathing or applying counter pressure on areas of your body that will provide some relief. Or, you might want your partner to stay quiet and not touch you, which is fine too! As the birthing person, you get to call the shots.
What are some medical pain relief options during labor?
Medical pain relief options during labor can include epidurals, narcotics, and local anesthesia. These options are typically only available in a hospital setting, so if you are planning to have a homebirth be sure to practice natural pain relief strategies beforehand.
The most common method of medical pain relief in labor is an epidural. If you request an epidural, you will be asked to sit upright or lie on your side. An anesthesiologist will insert an epidural needle between the vertebrae in your lower spine. Once the needle is in place, a tiny flexible catheter is threaded through the needle and the needle is removed. This catheter will be used to administer medication that will cause you to feel numb from the epidural location down. If you choose to have an epidural, you will also probably have a urinary catheter inserted, as you won’t be able to leave your bed once the epidural is in place.
How long does childbirth typically last?
The length of childbirth can vary widely depending on many factors, including whether it’s your first or subsequent delivery, your baby’s size, and whether you’re having a vaginal or C-section delivery. On average, first time deliveries can last up to 12-24 hours, while subsequent deliveries may be shorter.
What are some potential complications during childbirth?
Complications during childbirth can include hemorrhage, infection, fetal distress, or the need for an emergency C-section. It’s important to discuss any potential complications with your healthcare provider.
What are the signs of preterm labor?
It’s important to know the signs of preterm labor because it will allow for early intervention and medical attention if needed, which can significantly improve outcomes for both mom and baby. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Regular contractions
- Change in vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pressure
- Abdominal cramping
- Pelvic heaviness or pressure
- Ruptured membranes (otherwise known as your water breaking)
- Abdominal cramps
What happens immediately after the baby is born?
After your baby is born, there are several important steps that occur to ensure the well-being of both baby and mom.
First, the baby is typically placed on your chest for immediate skin-to-skin contact. This practice helps promote bonding, regulates baby’s body temperature, and encourages breastfeeding. Then, the healthcare provider (or your partner, if they wish!) will clamp and cut the umbilical cord. If needed, the nurse or provider will clear any mucus or fluids from the baby’s airways to ensure the baby is breathing with ease. The baby will by dried and warmed while still on your chest.
Your well-being, as the mom, will also be taken care of. Your vital signs will be monitored, you’ll be checked for excess bleeding (or hemorrhage), and your placenta will be delivered.
Depending on how the delivery goes, you can plan to spend at least an additional night in the hospital once your baby is born. In some cases, you or your baby may need to stay longer to receive extended care.
Can I eat or drink during labor?
The answer to this question varies from hospital to hospital. Most healthcare providers will allow you to at least drink clear fluids during labor. In some settings, eating is not recommended due to the risk for aspiration in the case of an emergency C-section.
What should I expect in the days and weeks after giving birth?
In the days and weeks after giving birth, you can expect to experience both physical and emotional changes. Physically, you may feel soreness, pain, and fatigue. Your body just did an amazing thing! Emotionally, you may notice hormonal fluctuations that range from deep elation to deep sadness, or “the baby blues.” It’s important to prioritize self-care during this time and accept help from friends and family. If you experience symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety, be sure to seek help from your healthcare provider.
Childbirth is a complex and transformative process that can be different for everyone. It’s important to go into it armed with information but also with a degree of flexibility, knowing that there are some things you won’t be able to control. You got this, Mama!