1. Giving Birth Isn’t Quick
This is often a big surprise, especially to male partners who want to rush to hospital. Physically and biologically you change when you go into labour and the process takes some time. Labour starts properly when you have three to four contractions every ten minutes, lasting for up to a minute each, and that can take a few hours. Even if a woman feels the urge to push, she can still have an hour to go.
2. First-Time Births Can Take Longer
First babies usually take longer because it’s a huge task and your body hasn’t done it before. There’s no average time but the rule of thumb is dilating by half a cm per hour for first-time mums and one cm per hour for multips (women who’ve had a baby before).
3. It’s Okay To Have Pain Relief
Don’t feel like you’ve failed if you opt for pain relief – it’s your body and your baby, so you need to do what feels right. To take the pressure off, understand what’s available in advance then decide what you need at the time. The standard methods of pain relief during labour are:
- Gas and Air (50% nitrous oxide and 50% oxygen, also known as Entonox) – it won’t stop pain but it can make it easier to deal with.
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) – this clever electrical gizmo stimulates the body’s own natural painkillers and can be adjusted as needed.
- Intramuscular injections (such as Pethidine) will help you relax but can make you dizzy and may make the baby tired and slow to respond as it passes through the placenta.
- Epidural (or spinal anaesthetic) is the only form of pain relief that will take pain away. Up to 40% of women in UK hospitals have an epidural when giving birth.
4. It’s Never Too Late For An Epidural
Ignore the myths – the only time it’s too late for an epidural is when the baby is actually coming out. If you opt for an epidural when you’re around seven or eight cm dilated (remember – you can only push at ten cm), the only issue may be that the epidural could reduce your sensation and make it harder for you to push. This could increase the odds of needing an instrumental delivery, i.e. the use of forceps. Remember an epidural can take up to 20 minutes to take effect so try not to wait until the last minute.
5. Epidurals Mean Catheters
Epidurals – which block the nerves in the lower half of the body, thus providing pain relief – may be the most effective form of pain relief in terms of numbing pain, but it’s also worth noting that you’ll need a urinary catheter while you’re having the epidural. As you’ll experience a reduction of mobility in your legs, you’ll have to stay in bed until the epidural wears off – this can take a few hours.
6. Your Body May Test-Run Contractions
As early as 24 weeks, you may experience Braxton Hicks, which are essentially practice contractions. You may feel your uterus, lower abdominal area or groin tighten or squeeze, and then relax. However, unlike real contractions, Braxton Hicks won’t dilate your cervix and they shouldn’t be painful.
7. You May Tear
The skin of the perineum (the area between the vagina and the bottom) usually stretches well during childbirth but it may tear, especially in women who are giving birth for the first time. Sometimes, a doctor or midwife may need to make a cut in the perineum while you’re giving birth – this is called an episiotomy and it makes it easier for the baby to come through. The procedure will essentially avoid a tear or speed up delivery. Studies suggest that in first-time births, it’s more common to have severe injuries involving the anal muscles if the perineum tears spontaneously rather than if an episiotomy is performed.
8. You Might Not End Up Lying On Your Back
When giving birth you have to push your baby up and around the pelvic arch – and lying on your back may not be the best position to do this in. In fact, a lot of women find they give birth on all fours – this creates a little more room in the pelvis; plus, gravity can help you out if you’re more upright.
9. You Might Not Need A Doctor
If you have a low-risk pregnancy, only one midwife needs to be present. Midwives are trained to look after women in labour and deliver babies – there’s usually no need for a doctor unless there are complications.
10. You’ll Give Birth To The Placenta
Did you know you’ll need to give birth to the placenta after you’ve had your baby? Contractions may well be painful but the placenta usually slides out very easily and you may be given an injection to help expel it.
11. Understand What It Is To Be Induced
Research suggests the placenta doesn’t function as well after 40 weeks + 12 days, so if you don’t go into labour naturally and find yourself over-due, you may need to be induced. At the same time, pregnancy can bring health risks for some women so it can be safer for both mother and baby if the baby is born earlier than planned.
12. Think About Recovery Time
How quickly you bounce back after giving birth varies as every woman is different. If you’ve had a caesarean, it can take up to six weeks to fully recover (also expect to spend up to four days in hospital post birth); but if you’ve had a normal, complication-free birth, you can often go home the same day. As a general rule of thumb, you’re advised to go for a six-week check-up with your GP – by this point, your body should be close to, if not fully, recovered by then.
13. Knowledge Is Power
Knowledge really is power when it comes to giving birth. Once you understand what is happening to your body and why, you tend to cope better. Antenatal classes are a great way to prepare – make sure you enlist a birth partner, too. Try to be open-minded and don’t put too much emphasis on sticking to a birth plan. Accept that it’s okay if things change and try not to panic – you’ve got this.
For more information visit MLMaternity.com