Take It From The Labor Nurse

This person will spend much more time with you in the hospital than your doctor will. Listen to what she has to say.


Her job description is pretty clear-cut: She’s a registered nurse who cares for the mother and baby throughout labor, birth and recovery. But besides monitoring the mom’s contractions and the baby’s heart rate, she cleans up all manner of messes; adjusts for quirks, temperaments and family dramas; coaches dads and pampers siblings; translates medical-speak; and serves as cheerleader, drill sergeant and best friend du jour. Your labor nurse has heard and seen everything and knows a lot; here’s what she wants you to know.

Get out of bed Moving around and changing your position frequently lessens pain, helps guide the baby down into the birth canal and accelerates pushing. So minimize the time you spend in bed, and instead walk, squat, sit on a ball, use the rocking chair or Jacuzzi. Sore back? Try labor dancing: Elevate the bed, lean on it with your elbows, stick out your butt and swing slowly; or hug your partner and sway. Stay off your back (even though that’s probably what got you into this) to maximize blood circulation to the baby.

Try to be flexible Birth is unpredictable, and flexibility makes for a smoother delivery (not to mention parenting). Tell me and your doctor or midwife what you want well beforehand—we’ll try to deliver. However, we can’t guarantee every item on your birth plan wish list. (Here’s a secret: the longer the plan, the more the interventions. Keep it to one page, max.) It’s tough being born, and some babies need a little help getting out. It’s no picnic for you, either, and sometimes plans fly out the window when labor gets serious. So we won’t hold you to every birth plan promise you made, like “I won’t, won’t, won’t get an epidural!”

Check your modesty (and vanity) at the door You can’t shock or gross us out (and the same is true for your doctor, midwife or doula). We’ve seen it all. You aren’t the first woman to go into labor with unshaved legs, unwashed hair and a bikini zone that hasn’t seen wax in ages, if ever. We don’t care how much (or little) hair there is down there or what color it is. If there’s time, start labor freshly showered. Bonus points for shaved legs and pedicures (who can reach?). Rings can stay. Body piercings— remove first. Tiaras—optional, though you are the queen. And don’t worry about pooping, yelling and getting out of control. That said, pain is no excuse for meanness.

Tell us if you’re scared Surveys show that pregnant women’s top four fears are pain, needles, having an episiotomy or tearing, and needing a Cesarean section. Tell us what you’re afraid of, and odds are good that we can help. Pain relief not working? We’ll suggest alternatives. You won’t get brownie points for biting the bullet, and we won’t think less of you if you need help. If you’re freaked out by IVs, blood draws and epidurals, tell your nurse and she’ll work with you to minimize your anxiety and pain with warm blankets, a local anesthetic to numb the skin before a needle is inserted—and TLC. Applying hot compresses to the perineum and massaging the area with mineral oil can often help you avoid episiotomies and tears. Most midwives and, in some areas of the United States, labor nurses will do this. And if you learn you need a C-section—STAT!—we can reassure you with the knowledge that a C-section is quick and almost always easier and less painful than you might think.

Understand that labor takes as long as it takes Will your labor be a sprint or a marathon? Yes, we have tons of experience, but we don’t have a crystal ball. We can guesstimate how long it will last by juggling the variables (spontaneous labor or induced, first-timer or old pro) and figure out when to summon your doctor. (Here’s another secret: the bigger the entourage, the longer the labor. You’ll probably be less mobile and more concerned about modesty if you’re entertaining guests.) Timing is important when considering interventions and pain management like epidurals, but labor is a journey, not a race.