Preparing for labour? Are you nervous? Or are you excited to see how it all happens? I was super excited, much to the surprise of my experienced friends – they all smiled awkwardly when I said I couldn’t wait for labour…….
I will say now that it is impossible to be fully prepared for labour, particularly if it is your first time; however; there is certainly a lot you can become familiar with to make the birth process less daunting and more manageable as you transition through the various stages.
The birth process is nothing short of incredible and how we women can do it continues to amaze me, despite having done it myself! Giving birth (however it ends up happening) is a truly beautiful experience….even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Somehow your body and mind have a way of only remembering the good stuff.
Are there any signs that labour is getting close?
This is, I’m sure, a question typed into google by many expectant mothers on a daily basis as you get close to that 40-week mark, and unfortunately the answer isn’t clear cut as women can experience pre-labour quite differently. Pre-labour can start between 1 and 4 weeks prior to labour and some common experiences include:
- Feeling like you have mild period-type pain.
- You feel your baby lower in your uterus. Known as ‘lightening’, you may feel like your baby is lower down in your pelvis making it easier for you to breathe, but likely requires more trips to the bathroom.
- You have Braxton Hicks contractions. The difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and true labour is that these contractions occur at irregular intervals and don’t get closer together.
- Your bowel movements become looser.
- You may notice changes in your vaginal discharge. (If you have excessive discharge or blood please call your health care provider).
What is the first stage of labour?
The first stage of labour is the real deal. During this stage, your cervix dilates (opens) and effaces (thins out and softens). The cervix goes through these changes with the help of contractions that can start like period pain or cramping and then continue to get more painful, more intense and closer together. The hormone oxytocin stimulates the uterus to contract and helps labour progress.
As your contractions become more painful and closer together you start to move from early labour to active labour. Active labour starts when your cervix has dilated to 3 – 4cm. During active labour your contractions not only become more painful but they also become longer in duration and closer together. Contractions come in waves so the pain will build up and intensify and then fade away.
As the first stage of labour progresses you might start to feel restless, tired and irritable, and this can indicate you are in the transition phase. Unfortunately, this does mean longer and stronger contractions and the time between each contraction continues to decrease. Your cervix will be completely dilated and you are ready to move to the second stage of labour. It is in this moment you might feel as though you don’t have the strength or will to continue with labour (although there really is no turning back) however; know that this phase will pass and you are closer to meeting your baby.
What is the second stage of labour?
The second stage of labour begins when your cervix is dilated and ends with the birth of your baby.
During this stage of labour your contractions will be intense and close together with as little as 1 – 2 minutes in between each one. You are likely to feel an overwhelming desire to push and feel a heaviness or pressure in your bottom. You may also feel stretching or burning in your vagina.
The pushing stage of labour can last anywhere from a few minutes up to 2 hours. If you opt for an epidural or you are a first time mother pushing your baby out can take longer. However depending on where you give birth and how your birth is progressing your health care provider may have a limit to how long they let you push.
When you give your final push your baby will emerge and you get to meet them for the first time. You may feel shaky or nauseas from the flood of hormones in your body which helped to facilitate the birth of your baby…….but it’s worth it.
What is the third stage of labour?
This stage refers to the delivery of your placenta and will involve some further contractions and a feeling of fullness in your vagina as it is being delivered. This stage usually takes about 15 minutes however will depend on whether you choose to expel your placenta naturally or you have an injection which speeds up this process.
What can you do to make labour more manageable?
Identify what relaxes you
Knowing what you find relaxing may prove to be very useful during labour. Listening to music, low lighting and deep breathing are all things you might find relaxing in between contractions. If you are in the early stages of labour, having a warm bath can help you feel relaxed and may also ease the pain of contractions.
Write a ‘birthing plan’
Having an idea of how you want to labour (whether that be in the bath or shower for example), what positions you want to labour in and stating who you want in the room with you whilst you labour may help you feel more in control in what can seem like a very overwhelming experience. It also provides your birth partner(s) if you choose to have them, guidance on how best to help you through the process.
However, be flexible with your plan and know that during labour things can change and this may mean your birthing preferences may be ignored. And that’s ok! The best birthing plan is to ‘give birth to a baby’, in whatever way that happens. I found my birth plan only recently and whilst I achieved some of the things on my list, the rest of it just provided me with a good laugh!
Find a midwife or team of midwives you feel comfortable with
From my own personal experience, having exceptionally skilled midwives leading you through the birth process and helping you prepare beforehand allows you to feel more confident in your ability to do it, whether you choose to do it with pain medication or without.
Attend a pre-natal birthing class or two
Understanding the process of labour in depth as well as the physiological changes that will occur can help you feel more comfortable as these changes occur during labour. Usually your birthing centre will provide you with some pre-natal classes however there are a number available that you can do face to face or even online. Being confident in your ability to give birth may reduce feelings of anxiety or worry, which when high, may have the effect of slowing labour by impacting on your body’s release of the hormone oxytocin.
How can you prepare your body leading up to labour?
Whilst it is difficult to be completely prepared for labour there are some things you can do to strengthen your body and mind in preparation for the big day.
Maintain your exercise regime or a modified version to keep you physically strong. Not only does this help during labour but can also help your recovery post birth. Yoga is a great way to build strength (particularly of your pelvic floor). This helps with the second stage of labour as well as your recovery afterwards and minimises the risk of post-natal incontinence.
Practice deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing helps to keep your anxiety or worry in check and will come in handy during the first stage of labour particularly as you want to keep your oxytocin levels pumping so your labour keeps progressing. Deep breathing is also useful as you move into the second stage of labour and you can use that breath to help you push.
Try to eat as well as you can. This of course does not seem surprising coming from a naturopath, however eating well during the lead up to labour not only keeps your body in tip top shape but is important because your baby is using your nutrients for its final stages of growth. Once your baby joins you on the outside it will be relying on you for nutrients from your breast milk so keep eating lots of vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, lean meat and fish.
Consider partus praeparator herbs (uterus preparation). These herbs essentially support your uterus as it prepares for labour. They can tone the uterus, support effective contractions, support your recovering post birth and assist with breastmilk production. Herbs during pregnancy however should only be used under the guidance of a qualified naturopath.
Enjoy this last trimester of pregnancy. Pregnancy can be hard, uncomfortable and nauseating (for some), but it can also be an amazing experience as you feel your baby grow inside you, feel the first flutters of its tiny movements and then see a foot sitting under your ribs. Pregnancy goes by in a flash so take the time to acknowledge and appreciate just how lucky you are to be growing this little human.
Need some help to prepare for labour?
If you want to consider some herbs for preparing your uterus for labour, or you just need some guidance with your diet and lifestyle to optimise your health before the big day, get in touch. I can help by tailoring a diet and lifestyle plan which can support your final trimester of pregnancy and also assist with your post-natal health as you move into a new and exciting chapter in your life. I can be reached on 03 9620 9530 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org