As birth stories go, mine was about as unnatural as they get: I was given Pitocin to speed my labor, then an epidural for the pain and, much later, had an emergency C-section. Fortunately, both baby Robby and I were fine. But because of my experience, I cannot quell other women's labor fears or advise them about the best way to heal a perineal tear.
I can, however, recommend they do this: Bring crossword puzzles to the hospital! When I wasn't dilating-even with the Pitocin-there was really nothing else to do during my labor but concentrate on the double-entendre clue for 46 across.
Childbirth classes like those your hospital offers teach you the fundamentals, but your girlfriends are the people to turn to for advice on what you really need to bring to the hospital and which pain remedies really work. That's why we asked actual moms for pointers to make your experience better in many little ways.
Cookies When we checked in, we looked like refugees carrying all our worldly possessions: a massive boom box, a week's worth of clothing and toiletries, pillows, magazines, and cookies for the nurses. Everything except the cookies turned out to be useless. - Jenna Coito, mother of two, Santa Barbara, Calif.
CDs Bring whatever sets the right mood for you. I remember my OB-GYN commenting between my pushes that she really liked my Jack Johnson CD. - Stacy Whitman, mother of one, Sun Valley, Idaho
DVDs and a mini player There's plenty of downtime during labor! - Robin Miller, mother of two, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Earplugs We were right near the nursery, so there was lots of noise in the hallway all night long. Wearing earplugs allowed for some solid sleep. - Dana Hudepohl, mother of one, Tampa, Fla.
RELATED: How to Pack Your Hospital Bag
Take your pain meds with food. In the wee hours, the only food I could find to take with my meds was doughnuts a visitor had left. They did help prevent stomach upset, but I would have loved something healthier. - Dana Hudepohl
Use Dermoplast spray and cold Tucks pads. I tore during delivery and had stitches, so spraying with the Dermoplast and applying the refrigerated pads, along with rinsing with warm water after using the bathroom, felt wonderful. - JoAnne Glenn, mother of one, Tampa, Fla.
Pack a rubber glove with ice. Right after your episiotomy, place it on the painful area, then replace the ice every few hours. - Ellen Meagher, mother of four, New York
Stay in the hospital as long as possible after a C-section. My recovery was much more difficult than I expected. And don't be shy about asking the nurses to help take care of your baby. I found it hard to lift the baby to feed her. - Naoko Halloran, mother of four, Tokyo
Sit on a Boppy pillow. It really relieves the pain from a tear or an episiotomy. - Lynn Evans, mother of two, Naperville, Ill.
RELATED: Labor Tips for First Time Moms
Seek input from a lactation consultant. Do this in the hospital, even if you don't think that you need it. I had problems after I got home and had to find someone. - A.J. Young, mother of one, Los Angeles
Bring your breast pump to the hospital. A nurse or lactation consultant can show you how to use it. - Stacy Whitman
Breastfeed immediately after delivering. If you need any help, the nurses are right there! - Robin Miller
Room in with your baby. The nurses put the baby in a little bassinet right next to me. They would come in and wake me up so that I could breastfeed, which helped get nursing off to a good start. It's also nice for bonding. - Lynn Evans
Got two? Get a twin nursing pillow. This is a foam-filled platform that allows you to lay your babies on either side of you and nurse simultaneously. - Louise Kelly, mother of three, Pelham, N.Y.
Be nice to the nurses. They can be one of your biggest advocates with a doctor who doesn't have the best bedside manner. One nurse even gave me a back rub when her shift was slow! - Victoria E. Moss, mother of four, Irvine, Calif.
Designate someone to "take everyone to the cafeteria for coffee." Visitors won't be offended if you ask them to leave so you can nap, nurse or just enjoy quiet time with your baby. - Jennifer Buneta, mother of one, Florham Park, N.J.
Bring a toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush and makeup. I wanted to look nice (or at least a little less like death!) when people came to visit. - A.J. Young
Put pains and gripes in perspective. Remind yourself that you are going through all this in order to bring your child into the world. You'll go home with a new life—nothing else matters! - Patricia K. Meyer, mother of one, Santa Monica, Calif.