Going into childbirth knowing what to expect is key to building the confidence you need. Here’s how to get there.
Create a birth plan
Your next step is to create a birth plan, which will help you think through what you want—or don’t want—during your delivery. (Many childbirth classes will help you do this.) Keep in mind the term is a bit misleading because birth is unpredictable. “I call it a wish list,” says Rubin. “It’s a tool to share the things that matter to you with your care provider.”
For instance, you might mention that you want to walk around during early labor, use a doula for support or have your husband announce the baby’s sex. It’s best to keep it short (no more than a page) and write it before your sixth month because that’s when you should discuss it with your doctor or midwife. Be sure to bring a copy with you to the hospital or birth center so the nurses know your wishes.
Know your pain-relief options
As you think about your birth plan, you’ll need to decide whether you want medication, plan to avoid it or see how things go. These are the most common methods:
Short-acting narcotics, such as morphine and Stadol, are given in early labor (up to 4 or 5 centimeters dilated).
Pros: Can take the edge off the pain so you’re able to take a nap (for perhaps an hour or two).
Cons: May not offer adequate pain relief, and the drugs used can slow the baby’s breathing.
An epidural block delivers medication through a catheter to an area outside the spinal cord.
Pros: Provides pain relief in the abdomen yet usually allows enough sensation so you can push. The baby is not affected; and because the medication is given continuously, the dose can be adjusted, allowing you to move around or push when necessary. Research shows an epidural doesn’t slow labor, says Riley.
Cons: Risks include fever, which requires antibiotic treatment; de-creased blood pressure; blood clots; and, rarely, a severe headache that lasts for several days.
A spinal block involves injecting pain medication into the sac that surrounds the spinal cord; it can be given before a C-section or if a vaginal delivery is expected within two hours.
Pros: Takes effect immediately and provides pain relief from the chest down for up to two hours.
Cons: You can’t walk during labor, and you may be too numb to push. The medication can also cause nausea, low blood pressure and, in rare cases, a severe headache.
Or perhaps you’ll want to try non-drug options such as slow, controlled breathing, which distracts from the pain of contractions; or guided imagery, in which you imagine yourself at a place where you’re relaxed (like the beach). Movement (rolling from side to side, for instance) can also decrease pain and even helps the baby rotate through the pelvis, says Lothian. Other options include acupuncture and water birth.
Learn more about labor pain, know what to expect and how to find relief fitpregnancy.com/laborpain.