A certified childbirth educator offers advice to help make your delivery less overwhelming.
1. Discuss IVs and Alternatives With Your Doctor in Advance
Here's a little-known secret: You don't need an IV just because you're in labor. If you plan on having an epidural, then it's a good idea to get an IV soon after you're admitted to the hospital. But if you're planning on having a natural delivery, ask your doctor or midwife about other options, such as skipping the IV altogether or getting a hep-lock, which will keep a vein open just in case you need IV medications or fluids.
Tip: Eating and drinking before you get to the hospital will help you stay hydrated and well nourished for the hard work of labor.
2. Know Where to Find Heat Packs and Birth Balls Ahead of Time
Birth balls, heat packs, and blankets can help you feel more comfortable during labor. Some hospitals keep a birth ball in every room; others may keep them in a closet. Warm blankets and instant heat packs are usually kept in a drawer or cabinet in your room. Heat is a great tool during labor, particularly if you experience back labor. You may also get the chills, especially during transition, when your cervix is 7 to 10 centimeters dilated. Ask your nurse how to adjust the heat and air conditioning in the room to help make sure the temperature stays comfortable throughout your delivery.
Tip: Secure your heat pack in place with the Velcro belt used during monitoring.
3. Create Your Own Comfortable Labor Environment
Think about what helps you relax or de-stress on a regular day, such as music or aromatherapy, and try to bring some of those elements into the delivery room. If you're relaxed, your labor may progress more quickly. Also, consider questions such as: Do you want sun streaming through the windows, or do you prefer the shades drawn? Do you want the door to your labor room closed, or are you okay with hearing the mom next door pushing her baby out?
Tip: Think about your ideal environment before you go into labor and share your thoughts with your partner. It's all right to change your mind once you're in labor, but planning ahead will ensure that you have a few comforts in place.
4. Request a Telemetry Monitoring Unit to Stay Mobile
Just because your fetus needs to be electronically monitored doesn't mean you have to lie flat in bed -- moving around and trying different positions can help your labor progress. A telemetry monitoring unit can be the best of both worlds: It allows the nurses to monitor your contractions and baby's heart rate from a central location, and it allows you to be mobile. If a telemetry unit isn't available, you'll have to either stay in bed or move only as far as the cords plugged into the wall will take you.
Tip: Take a hospital tour during pregnancy, and find out if a telemetry unit will be an option for you.
5. Get in the Water to Help Ease the Pain of Contractions
Most labor and delivery rooms have showers, some have bathtubs, and a few rooms are equipped with large, Jacuzzi-type tubs that you can use during labor. If you'd like to labor in water (and your doctor has approved it), find out in advance what kind of hydrotherapy options will be available to you at your hospital.
Tip: If your hospital has tubs only in certain rooms, you might have to reserve a room with a tub in advance. Ask your doctor or midwife about the hospital policy.
6. Encourage Your Partner to Pack a Labor Bag
You and your baby will need gear, and your partner will too. Recommended items include a change of clothes, with several layers. If you get really hot and want the air conditioner on full blast even in the middle of winter, your partner will want to put on a sweatshirt or longer pants. The same goes if you want the heat turned up high -- your partner will probably want short sleeves. Pack something to eat and drink; even if the cafeteria is open 24/7, you'll want your partner or labor coach to be able to stay with you even if he or she is hungry.
Tip: The more comfortable, hydrated, and nourished your partner is, the better he or she will be able to support you.
7. Stock Up on Ice Chips
Here's one of the coolest tips for labor--and not just because it involves ice. Once you're in active labor, you're likely to get hot from all the hard work you're doing. Ask your partner or doula to fill a large cup with ice and water, and then put two or three washcloths in it. If you need to cool off, he or she can take one of the cloths out, wring out the water, then place it on your forehead, chest, or the back of your neck to help cool you off. When the washcloth gets warm -- which may happen pretty quickly -- it will be easy to swap it out for a cold one.
Tip: A cool cloth is particularly helpful during transition or the second stage of labor when you'll be pushing.
8. Try This Neat Glove Trick if You Need an IV
With the nurse's permission, ask your partner to cut off the tips of a glove's fingers and thumb and then place it on your hand where your IV has been inserted. This will keep the IV catheter dry while you get much-needed pain relief from the shower.
Tip: If you need continuous monitoring and want to labor in the shower or tub, ask a nurse if a waterproof monitor is available.
9. Play Some Cool Tunes
Music is another fantastic labor tool. Most labor and delivery rooms have a television with a built-in DVD player. Use it to play CDs. If you have an MP3 player, create a labor playlist. Even if you end up not playing music while in labor, you'll have the option.
Tip: Choose a variety of tunes because you never know what you may feel like listening to!
10. Keep Your Baby Close After Delivery
It's still standard practice at some hospitals to give Mom little time for bonding before the baby is whisked away to the nursery. Unless there is a complication or another reason your baby may need to be taken to the nursery immediately (if at all), keep your baby close so that you can enjoy skin-to-skin contact (which is highly recommended by many health organizations). The initial postpartum care for your baby can take place in the delivery room. Apgar scoring can be done with your baby in your arms, and weighing and measuring can wait.
Tip: Ask if baby's first bath can wait until you feel recovered and ready enough to help