As a midwife and a mother, I can say I have literally been there when it comes to getting through labour! And it’s really not that bad – honestly. However, labour is still what first (and second) time mothers tend to focus on and worry about. Therefore, I decided to put together a comprehensive list of top 10 labour tips. This assumes everything is low risk but even if it isn’t, you might get a few pointers that will help when the time comes.
1. Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail
Go to the antenatal classes if you can. I know you’re thinking groan groan, I don’t want to see videos of other women giving birth. Don’t worry, that’s not usually how things are done any more. You will get labour tips on options for pain relief, you may get a tour of the labour ward and maternity ward so you know where to go and you will meet other mums (and dads) in the same position as you. There is the opportunity to speak to midwives one on one who can answer your questions specific to you. You also learn some basics about looking after baby when they arrive – most people don’t see past the getting through labour part but the minding baby part is definitely harder!
2. Early labour
This can last for a few hours… or a few days, or it can come and go. Don’t be disheartened. If you start experiencing tightenings (period like cramps or stronger), you might get excited as you think this is it! Firstly, they may be Braxton-Hicks which are exactly like labour pains but they come and go. For example – you might have 3 hours of pains every 10 minutes but then after a while they are every 12 minutes then every 15 minutes and then they stop. This is not labour… This can happen many times and can get frustrating. You know you are in early labour when pains are the same length of time apart from the start of one pain until the start of the next one and slowly start getting closer and stronger.
The best way to deal with early labour is to ignore it! Obviously the pains may be difficult to ignore but if they are 10 minutes or more apart, try and focus on something else. Go for a walk, read a book, watch a film, cook something, sleep, etc. Distraction is key here. There’s no point timing your pains until they are coming at least every 10 minutes.
Once pains are getting more frequent, you may find it difficult to focus on anything else. If this is the case, listen to music and alternate between the ball, standing and rocking, the bath and lying on your side. Keep going at home as long as you can; always staying in touch with your maternity unit once pains are coming near every 5 minutes in case they feel you need to come in. This time at home is very helpful as it has been proved that labour can stop by simply being in a hospital environment, this is less likely to happen if you are in established labour when you get in.
Established labour is when you have at least 3 pains every 10 minutes and is confirmed by a vaginal examination to check cervical dilatation, This is what you’re aiming for but without an examination, it is difficult to tell. This brings me to the next point.
3. Know when to go to the hospital!
The big question – “When do I go in?” When it’s your first baby, a huge fear is that baby will arrive before you get to the hospital. Firstly, know that you can call the labour ward at any time – there are midwives there 24/7 every single day (and night) of the year. They are more than happy to put your mind at rest. Call them yourself, don’t get your partner or anyone else to ring as it’s you the midwives need to speak to. They will wait for any contraction to pass, it’s fine, they know what it is like. In most cases, with your first baby and no problems in your pregnancy, you will be advised to come in if any of the following things happen:
– your waters break
– your pains are every 5 minutes or less
– you feel you can not cope with the pain (using a warm bath and taking paracetamol as directed)
– there is bleeding (not to be confused with a show which is a blood stained mucusy substance and normal)
Another consideration is how far you are from the hospital and external conditions such as winter weather, rush hour traffic and even someone to mind other children if you have them. The hospital will never turn you away if you feel you want to be there. You may be examined and told you are not in labour and be advised to go home to await events if the pains have stopped. If this happens, a lot of women are dismayed and worry that “real” labour is going to be awful if it’s this bad and nothing has happened. This is not the case. Some women take a long time to get into established labour for whatever reason but they still manage fine when they get there. If you are still having pains, you may be offered some pain relief to help you sleep if you are being admitted to await events , sleep can really help at this stage. Take the advice of the midwives, they do want to help you!
4. Have a supportive birth partner
Maybe a bit of a contentious one but your birth partner does not have to be your actual partner! Most hospitals allow you to swap between 2 people so your actual partner can still be there for the birth but you might want someone else to get you through everything leading up to the big moment. Pick someone who is a rock to you, someone you can literally lean on, someone who usually says the right thing and someone who just ‘gets’ you. It can be your mum, your sister, your friend, anyone! And don’t worry about them seeing you exposed, you can stay covered up and they can step out for any examinations, it’s really all quite dignified most of the time. Your actual partner may be the best in the world but you know in your heart whether they are going to be a hindrance or a help in this situation. Many men would be only too delighted to get a pass on the labour bit and just be there to see baby being born. Or they could be your ideal birth partner, only you can know!
5. Keep on moving
This is the key to a good labour, lying in bed on your back is basically asking your baby to go up a hill before they come out! Let gravity help you and baby by moving as much as possible. Walk, dance, sway, stay standing. When you are tired, try to maintain an upright position either by sitting on a ball, upright on a chair or kneel up on the bed. AVOID lying on your back if at all possible. If you really need to lie down, lying on your side is your best option. This also applies when you are at the pushing stage, stay off your back if possible.
6. Stay open to all options
You might decide you definitely do want an epidural or you definitely don’t want one. Read up about all the pain relief options when you are pregnant because when you are in labour, you are usually not in the mood for listening to all these details. Read up, understand what each option is and the pros and cons. Then keep your options open, go with the flow and if you need something then take it. You might surprise yourself and find it’s actually not that bad!
Whoever you chose as your birth partner, request one thing from them before labour starts. Ask them to encourage you to drink lots of water. That’s it, that is so hugely important and a task to keep a nervous birth partner occupied with. Getting dehydrated in labour is not a good idea. If you are dehydrated, you will be more tired, your baby’s heart-rate as well as yours can go up, and you might need IV fluids which means having a drip attached to your arm which makes mobilising more awkward. Avoid all that by drinking water as much as possible. Don’t forget to empty your bladder as often as possible too as a full bladder can make it difficult for baby to move towards the exit!
8. Focus and keep everything in perspective
Try to keep calm and just focus completely on yourself and your baby. Ignore the noises of labour ward, ignore the beeping of machines, don’t feel you need to be chatting to the midwives. You are the one having your baby, we (the midwives) are there to facilitate you and keep you both safe if necessary. You might feel like you are getting overwhelmed by the pains or just by the fact that you are about to become a mother. Close your eyes, look at the big picture. This is one day in your life, you are bringing your precious baby into the world, your body has been expertly designed to do this so trust it and trust yourself. Focus focus focus. You can do it and you are doing it. Each pain is bringing your baby closer to being born, each pain will end and you will get a break before the next one.
9. Getting through the transition stage
The transition stage is the bit where you are almost ready to push but not quite. It is without question, the most difficult part of labour but also the shortest part of labour. This is the stage where a lot of women feel they can’t cope, they might request an epidural, the contractions are very close together, it’s hard to get a comfortable position, words come out that would never normally be spoken and there is a lot of pressure felt as the baby moves down. It is easy for the midwife to identify this stage by the obvious changes in a woman’s behaviour and it can be distressing. But it is such a good sign as it means the end is in sight. So much support and encouragement is needed here. A good birth partner and a good midwife are worth their weight in gold at this stage. The thoughts of moving and changing position will seem impossible but it helps and you need to just make yourself do it and ask your birth partner to encourage you. This is not the time for chats, just gentle encouragement and reassurance.
10. The Final Frontier
The pushing! You made it to the magic 10cm, you have an overwhelming urge to push. It’s an indescribable feeling, your body goes on autopilot. If you are not expecting this, it can be frightening as you feel you are out of control and some people try to fight it by holding back. The easiest and quickest way to meet your baby is to go with your body. Push when you feel the urge and rest and conserve your energy between the contractions. It can be a relief to feel you are finally doing something with the contractions and when your midwife tells you they can see the head it is very exciting. Just remember, don’t lie on your back if at all possible. Continue changing positions as much as you can between contractions even though it’s the last thing in the world you feel like doing. This is it, you are about to meet your baby and you have just made it through labour. You will feel like you have won a marathon by the end and in terms of energy used – you aren’t far wrong. When you hold your baby in your arms, everything else fades to grey, the labour a distant memory already. You really can do it.