Birth is an experience that demonstrates that life is not merely function and utility, but form and beauty.
As your pregnancy progresses, you will start to give more thought to the birth itself. Thinking about labour often brings with it a fair amount of anxiety. This is usually due to little more than fear of the unknown – especially for first-time moms – and is a perfectly normal reaction. No one can deny that labour is an exhausting, and painful, process, but before you know it, you will be looking back in astonishment at what a minor effort it actually was for such an incredible result. Now is also the time that you will be hearing endless ‘birth stories’ from well-meaning friends and relatives. (Your hairdresser and local shop assistant will probably also have a tale or two to share.) Of course, there is a lot to be gained from the experiences of others, but tread cautiously. So much (dramatised) advice can be confusing and downright frightening. It is important to remember that every birth is as unique as the baby it delivers.
Here is some useful information to keep you and baby safe and comfortable as you take the final steps to becoming a mom:
Make informed decisions
Read as much as you can about the options available to you. Instinct will guide you to create a birth plan that you feel comfortable with and whatever makes you comfortable is the right choice for your baby. That said, always be prepared to be a bit flexible. Even the best laid plans don’t always work out; but just because a birth plan changes doesn’t mean it has gone wrong, it’s simply what was meant to be.
Early or latent labour is the first stage of the birthing process. In early labour, the cervix moves, softens, thins and begins to dilate. You may experience a mucus plug or ‘show’ coming away in early labour – this is as a result of the cervix moving and opening. Don’t panic or rush straight to the hospital as soon as your contractions start (unless your doctor has advised you to do so, you’re less than 37 weeks or your waters break.) Although your contractions may be fairly painful, early labour can take a long time and staying at home will help you stay relaxed and allow you to keep distracted. Rest as much as possible, you are going to need your energy in the hours to come. Keep eating and drinking – it is vital to stay hydrated and energised – and urinate as frequently as possible. Early labour ends when your cervix is approximately 4 centimetres dilated.
When your cervix begins to dilate more quickly, your contractions will become longer, stronger and closer together. If you are opting for a natural birth, now is the time to put into practice the breathing exercises and relaxation techniques you developed as part of your birth plan. Listen to your body to find the most comfortable positions – this may mean walking around, squatting or lying on your side. If there are no complications, you will be able to continue to move freely to keep yourself as comfortable as possible. Next, you will enter the transition period – when your cervix dilates from 8 to 10 centimetres. Contractions will now be very strong and you may feel sick or rather shaky. If you have made the decision to persevere without painkillers, now is when your resolve will most likely be tested. But keep reminding yourself that you have done a great job thus far and the end is in sight. Don’t hesitate to ask your partner for whatever will get you over this last hurdle – a cool cloth, music, a foot massage or perhaps just an extra dose of moral support.
When your cervix is fully dilated, you will begin pushing which will bring some relief. Follow your doctor or midwife’s guidance as to when to start pushing. Continue to change your position until you feel most comfortable. Before you know it, your baby’s head will crown and soon after you will be welcoming into your life the little soul you have been longing to meet. All that remains before you settle in to bonding with your baby is for you to deliver the placenta, which only takes a few minutes and is generally painless.