Oh, baby! If you’ve got a precious little bundle on the way, you’re already well aware of how overwhelming getting ready can seem. Fortunately, knowing what to expect and being prepared before labor gets underway can go a long way toward putting your mind at ease.
Childbirth procedures have evolved somewhat since the days when your mother and grandmother went through the delivery process, but the experience remains the same.
“Birth is a natural process, and a woman’s body will proceed without any interventions from the medical team,” says Susan Bowen, BSN, RN, administrative director at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, one of the busiest delivery hospitals in the Baltimore region. “The use of Pitocin and epidurals are the biggest changes. Inductions are now more the norm, as is the quest for a pain-free delivery.” Pitocin, the brand name of oxytocin, is used to start or strengthen labor contractions. Epidurals are a popular form of anesthesia administered through an injection in the lower back.
First things first
Planning for childbirth ideally begins months before your due date arrives.
“I encourage all expectant moms to start asking questions early to be prepared for what will be one of the biggest days of your life,” says Christina Dalo, BSN, RNC-OB, clinical partner in labor and delivery at GBMC. “Explore different options with your partner and with your doctor. Whether you’re choosing to deliver naturally or planning to use pain medication, having a birth plan is important. Your expectations will assist your doctor and your healthcare team in providing the best possible quality of care to you.”
A few questions to consider when drafting your birth plan include: Will you want medicine for pain management? Would you like a doula (trained birthing professional) present for support during the birth? Whom would you like to have in the delivery room with you? What will happen if you end up needing a cesarean section? Do you plan to breast-feed or bottle-feed your infant?
Many hospitals and obstetricians’ offices offer childbirth classes that can be a great way to learn about your options in the delivery process and what’s involved.
As your due date approaches, you’ll want to have a bag or small suitcase ready in anticipation of your trip to the hospital. Both Bowen and Dalo caution against overpacking.
“Be a minimalist,” Bowen suggests. “You’ll need comfortable clothing, slippers and personal items for postpartum. During labor and delivery, you will need the items necessary for your birthing plan — music, stress balls, etc. — as well as lip balm, socks and a hair tie.”
Bring only clothes and items you won’t mind ruining or leaving behind — childbirth is a messy process, Dalo says. And don't forget, you’re now packing for two. In addition to your own clothes and toiletries, you’ll need to bring the same for your baby.
Car seats are another buy-ahead item, and must be installed properly in the back seat of your car before your baby can go home.
Here comes the labor
At the first consistent rumblings of labor pains, it’s time to head to the hospital. Although procedures vary by facility, laboring mothers are usually assessed in a triage area before being administered an IV and hooked up to monitors that track contractions and fetal heartbeat. If you can, take care of registration paperwork ahead of time — one less thing to worry about once labor gets underway.
During labor, the healthcare team monitors each patient closely through the birth, after which the new family settles into a postpartum room to recover. Although healthy babies are welcome to stay in the rooms, hospitals also maintain newborn nurseries where little ones can go while mom sleeps, showers or just needs a few minutes to herself. Experienced moms advise using this service to get some sleep and recover before going home. Many women won’t have that luxury once they are home with a new baby.
The big event
Unlike in years past when expectant dads paced the waiting room with a box of cigars, modern spouses and birthing partners can take an active role in the entire labor and delivery process, with respect to the mother’s wishes and preferences. Again, open discussion on these topics early on will ensure everyone’s on the same page when the time comes.
“Communicate how you would like to be involved, and what you’re comfortable and uncomfortable doing,” Dalo advises spouses and birthing partners. “Support her decisions, and listen to what she’s saying. At the end of the day, she’s potentially going through one of the hardest things she will ever go through. Be there and be present to go through it with her.”
Even under the best of circumstances, childbirth can be an unpredictable process. It’s good to have a plan, but be willing to accept that things can change, and quickly. Just remember that no matter what, the reward of a healthy mom and baby is always the ultimate end goal.
“Nerves are natural,” Bowen says. “Just try to relax, enjoy your experience and remember to breathe.”
—Amy Lynch for Greater Baltimore Medical Center