If you’re expecting, no doubt you’re receiving unsolicited advice and hearing horror stories. I’ve spent more than 20 years working in OB at three of Chicago’s leading maternity centers. Here is my perspective as a nurse.
1. There is no crystal ball. Labor is not an exact science. However, the majority of the time, mom and baby are fine, and most couples tell me it was a nicer experience than they expected.
2. The nurses aren’t mind readers. Tell your labor nurse the top three things about this experience that matter most to you. Or tell her what you absolutely don’t want. Keep it to things within your control.
3. If you want an unmediated, low-interventional birth, hire a doula. None of the leading maternity centers have doulas on staff. There is evidence to support that using a doula lowers the risk of a C-section. The nurses are there to support you, but we have many things to monitor.
4. You can always say NO. Medical interventions are often suggested to avoid a C-section. However, there is frequently more than one viable option. Speak up if something doesn’t sound right.
5. Have a ball with labor. The exercise ball is the closest thing to a magic bullet—really. The labor and delivery unit will have balls available, but have your own so you can use it at home during early labor.
6. You can move around more than you think with an epidural. You will have to stay in bed once you have an epidural. But remember, movement keeps labor progressing; move from your left side, right side, semi-sitting, kneeling over the top of the bed. Ask your labor nurse about using the peanut-shaped ball; studies show that using this ball to open your pelvis may decrease your risk of a C-section.
7. Eat before you come to the hospital. Many hospitals still limit eating once you arrive. Be sure to eat at home and stay hydrated.
8. Amniotic fluid leaks. The bag of water can break any time during labor. But after it breaks, you will continue to leak fluid throughout labor. Not all the fluid escapes during the initial “break,” and the baby is always making more fluid.
9. Keep calm and breathe. Slow, conscious breathing will keep you focused and relaxed and serve as a distraction.
10. You will not recognize your perineum, but it’s OK. Most women have a lot of swelling in their perineum after delivery—more than you can imagine. Use the ice packs and the witch hazel pads that the hospital supplies. It gets better quickly, I promise!
11. You will be freaked out about pooping after delivery. You will not want to push anything else out of your bottom after delivery. However, constipation makes things worse. Take the stool softener the hospital offers to you.
12. Delayed cord clamping is not routine at most institutions. In healthy, full-term deliveries, delayed cord clamping may not be routine; you will have to request it.