The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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What you expect> You’ll spend your entire labor in bed.
What can happen> You feel like vacuuming, taking a walk, showering … anything but staying put.
What to do> Go with your urges; don’t fight them. “Moving is helpful,” Sencer says. “When you’re upright, gravity helps the baby find its way down, and the distraction of moving around can make pain more tolerable.”
This may be easier to do at home than in the hospital. “In an uncomplicated pregnancy, a woman can stay home until she’s in the active phase of labor,” says New York obstetrician Donald S. Matheson, M.D. This is when contractions become stronger, longer and closer together—about five minutes apart for a first-timer.
What you expect> You’ll give birth without medication.
What can happen> The pain seems overwhelming.
What to do> If you’re at home or in a non-hospital birthing center, you don’t have the option of an epidural or other drugs tempting you, and your midwife and partner will try to ease your pain with massage, counter-pressure, position changes and similar low-tech measures. But in the hospital, you’re in the challenging position of attempting to fast in a bakery. “The epidural cart gives you an out if that’s what you really want,” says Tammi McKinley, a doula in Arlington, Va. “But if you’d like to keep laboring naturally, asking for encouragement and reassurance can help enormously.” Often when a woman says, “I can’t do this,” the most helpful response is, “You are doing it.”
What’s important is that it be your choice. “Try not to be influenced by blanket pronouncements such as ‘natural childbirth is best’ or ‘epidurals are wonderful,’” Sencer says. Don’t take the all-or-nothing approach, either; it’s OK to “go natural” for as long as you can, then ask for pain relief.
What you expect> Labor will be long, hard and painful.
What can happen> Labor is easier than you anticipated. Expectations, pain thresholds, caregivers’ attitudes, the quality of labor support and other factors all affect the experience. In a USA Today poll, 31 percent of women said that having a baby was easier than they thought it would be. “Women are often surprised at how well they handle the challenge,” Sencer says.
What to do> Enjoy!