Because contractions generally signal that labor is starting, they can be viewed as a warning sign, a green light or a cue to ask, “Honey, the crib is set up, right?” But having contractions before you’re due doesn’t necessarily mean that Baby has requested an early checkout from Hotel Utero. Here’s what you need to know about uterine contractions—whenever they occur:
Nitrous oxide (N2O), aka laughing gas, is used in dental offices throughout the United States and in maternity hospitals worldwide. In fact, the majority of mothers in Europe, Australia and Canada—all places with better maternal and newborn health outcomes than in the U.S.—rely on it to reduce labor pain. N2O was widely used in American delivery rooms until the 1960s, when epidurals became a popular marketing tool for hospitals.
If your car stalled at the bottom of a hill, you certainly wouldn’t try to push it uphill. So why does it make sense to fight gravity by lying down during labor? This is just one reason why the standard hospital labor position—semi- or fully reclining—is not ideal. For one thing, when you’re lying on your back, your uterus compresses major blood vessels, potentially depriving the baby of oxygen and making you feel dizzy or queasy.
When Valerie Rowekamp’s labor started, it felt like an annoying case of menstrual cramps. During the hours that followed, the cramping became “downright uncomfortable, but not necessarily painful.” In fact, she gave birth without any pain medication. “I was surprised that it never really felt beyond my tolerance level, which is very low,” she said in her message on Fit Pregnancy’s Facebook page.
While your birth experience will be as unique to you as your new baby, the phases of labor and delivery are the same for everyone. During pregnancy the opening of your uterus, the cervix, is firm and closed. As your due date approaches, you may experience mild contractions that help prepare your cervix for delivery: It becomes soft, stretchy and thin, a process called effacement.
We all know that giving birth rarely happens like it does on TV shows: Your water breaks; you gasp, exclaim, “She’s coming!” Then, lipstick refreshed, you cradle your newborn as your handsome husband looks on. Alternatively, we hope your experience isn’t going to be fodder for reality TV: A swarm of doctors sprints into the delivery room, shouting, “Get the NICU team, STAT! We’ve got a quadruple nuchal and need a cold-knife section!”
Considering that at least 60 percent of American women today have an epidural for pain relief during labor, it’s surprising how misunderstood this procedure is. For starters, even doctors use the word “epidural” generically, to encompass three similar yet distinct procedures: epidurals, spinals and the combined spinal epidural (CSE), or “walking” epidural.
Since deciding whether or not to have an epidural means becoming informed about the benefits and risks well before labor begins, here are the facts to help you make sense of some common misconceptions.
When Christina Carey, 40, imagined her baby’s birth, she pictured her husband by her side, lovingly supporting her throughout labor and delivery. But when showtime arrived, she was surprised to see an entirely different side of him.
Raise your comfort level with these tips to cope with pain and labor. First, decide who and what will be with you. Then learn about what you can do with your body and mind during contractions. You’ll be amazed at your ability to discover and stay in your comfort zone.
Some prenatal yoga classes are teaching “vocal toning,” a technique that can help you ride out contractions and even ease pain during labor. Typically, the body’s response to pain is to contract, which works against you in labor. But creating a low, sustained sound in the open throat relaxes the birth canal and lower belly, allowing the cervix to dilate more easily and with less pain. “Vibrations create internal space, diminishing the intensity of the sensation,” explains Janice Clarfield, an international prenatal yoga teacher based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Conventional medical wisdom says the best way to send your baby out of the womb and into the world is with “coached” pushing: When your birth attendant announces it’s time, you tuck in your chin, tighten your abs, pull back your knees, take a deep breath, hold it and push for a count of 10, bearing down in this manner two or three times during each contraction. But a growing body of research suggests the conventional wisdom may be wrong, and that the healthier strategy is to follow your body’s cues and push spontaneously rather than following a coach’s count.
You wouldn’t dream of running a marathon without training first. Such an intense athletic event requires mental, physical and emotional preparation. The same is true for childbirth: Knowing what can happen during labor and delivery—and your options for pain relief—can alleviate your fears and boost your confidence. “Knowledge is power,” says Sheri Bayles, R.N., a certified Lamaze instructor who taught childbirth classes at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City for more than 20 years.
What's the difference between preterm labor and preterm contractions? It's all in the cervix, baby. If it changes, it's labor. If it doesn't, it's annoying. Sarah, 34 weeks pregnant with her first baby, has had contractions for a few weeks. They're not painful and yet there are enough of them that she wisely headed to the hospital for evaluation.