|You have a lot to get through before you can hold your little bundle!|
I've been meaning to write this post for almost a year. As I write, my sister is in labor with her first child, so labor is front and center on my mind.
First of all, you need to be informed about how labor and delivery work. Here is a link to the stages of labor from Baby Center. Being informed will help you be mentally prepared for what is ahead. It can help you know how to react to what you are experiencing.
You also need to be informed about your hospital / birthing center / doctors policies about labor and delivery. For example, when do they want you to come to the hospital? Will you have an area to walk? Will you be able to eat or drink?
In the same vein, you should be knowledgeable about the common interventions they used to help labor progress. Examples include striping membranes, breaking water, and pitocin IV. There are a lot of people who believe that having one intervention starts a chain of interventions ultimately leading to C-section. While I think that might be a bit extreme, having my water broken and a pitocin IV with my daughter probably did effect my labor since I then got my epidural and remained in bed the rest of the day.
Lastly, you should know about any medicines you want to take during labor to manage pain.
Write a realistic birth plan.
It is hard to write a birth plan for your first baby since you've never experienced labor and delivery before. But, taking time to write one can help your labor be more, dare I say, enjoyable. Labor is one time when you can be extremely selfish and self-centered. In your plan, write out the ways your support person(s) and medical professionals can help you the best. For example, do you want to not be asked about pain medicine? Do you want help knowing when to push? Do you want interventions delayed? Thinking through these options and then sharing them will help take some of the anxeity out of labor by having everyone supporting you in the way you want. Having thought about these items will lessen the stress of the labor and you'll be able to just focus on the moment and the joy headed your way.
Communicate with your support person.
With my labor for my daughter, I didn't communicate well with my husband. In fact, I didn't ask much of him at all. Looking back, I feel we were pretty disconnected until the pushing started, (which was about 1/15 of the labor). But, with my son, I knew communicated more clearly with him. Yes, I did want him more involved as labor began at home. Yes, I did want him to hurry up so we could go to the hospital now. Yes, I did want him to take me on laps around the ward. Yes, I did want him to pay more attention to me even after I had the pain medicine. These changes made me feel like we were in it together much more than with our first child's birth.
Have a mantra or image to focus on during hard moments.
With my daughter, I talked to her pushing the pushing encouraging her to come out. My husband thought this was kind of silly, but the doctor did the same thing during the birth of our son! Focusing on my daughter helped. For my son, I used a mantra one of the nurses mentioned early in the labor. She said to breath your baby down. I would focus on taking deep breaths during the contractions and visualize my son moving lower and lower through the birth canal. There are limitless possibilities of what you can focus on, but doing so can really prevent you from becoming lost in the pain.
Move, or at least stand.
During my labor for my daughter, I was laying or sitting almost the whole time. It started at home in bed, then on my living room floor as I timed contractions, then while being monitored waiting to be admitted, then sitting while be asked questions, then I had my water broken, then an IV, then an epidural. I strongly believe that this lack of movement lengthened my labor.
I remember my wonderful birth class instructor saying to walk. But when I was actually in labor, it was easy to be passive and wind up just laying or sitting on a bed and waiting. Here is a little bit on information from Baby Center on labor positions, and it states that some research finds laying down is the least effective labor position. Looking back, it wasn't surprising that my labor took so long when I spent so much of my time in an ineffective position.
So, with my son, I was determined to help my labor along. Once we were at the hospital being monitored and then again once we were admitted, I spent stretches of time walking around the ward with my husband, including with the IV pole. There were other times when I just stayed standing swaying. I waited until I got the epidural before I actually laid down. I really believe that this movement helped my labor progress more smoothly and naturally.
First, you have to know when to push. With my daughter, I did not. My epidural was turned down and I went from no pain to quite a bit and couldn't really feel clear contractions. I went into my second labor planning to ask for help with knowing when to push (I mean, they have a machine that reads the contractions, why not use it?). But, a happy accident left a band of pain around my left hip after the epidural. This allowed me know when to push making my pushes more constructive.
But you also need to know how to push. I remember the doctor on call when my daughter was born saying that all first time mothers push so daintily when they are first asked to push. And in comparison, its true. I wasn't even close to pushing hard enough. You want to push as hard as you possibly can. Like, I'm-going-to-pass-out-and-break-blood-vessels-in-my-eyes hard. And as far as how to push: Push like you are pooping. No one told me that, so I had a lot of difficulty at first. I had to be directed on where to direct my push. I had expected it to involve a lot more of my abdominal muscles.
Follow your instincts when possible.
Labor is a long ordeal for most women. Unless you are in an emergency situation, you are in charge. Until you get down to those last few pushes as you crown, you have a long haul of time where you can choose to spend the time as you wish. If you'd like the nurse to come back in fifteen minutes to check you, you can ask that. If you need to skip a contraction to rest from pushing, that is probably okay. If you don't want to hold your breath the way they direct you to, you can. Trust your instincts and give what feels right to you a try when possible.