I’ve been an obstetrician for much longer than I’ve been a mother. Prior to delivering my first baby I though I knew everything I needed to know about the labor process, but there were still some things that surprised me. Here are tips from an initiate to the doctor-mom club.
1. Educate yourself. Take a class, read a book, talk to your obstetrician or midwife. Knowing the basics will make it much easier to communicate with your team during labor.
2. Stay at home as long as you can. Don’t come to labor and delivery the second you feel your first contraction. Go for a walk, take a shower, do stretches on an exercise ball or try to distract yourself by watching television. As long as your doctor has told you that it’s safe, enjoy early labor in the comfort of your own home. The walls of your hospital labor room will get really old if you’re there forever, and you may be sent home until you are really in active labor. Save yourself the trip!
3. Bring things that make you comfortable. Your own pillow; music that relaxes you or pumps you up; a birthing ball to sit on; a tablet for reading; watching movies or emailing friends during a long induction of labor. This goes for people, too: If you just want your partner in the room during deliver, don’t feel pressured to have your mother-in-law in attendance.
4. Don’t be afraid. Fear can be a huge barrier to enjoying your labor and delivery experience. Trust your body and your care team. If there is something to be worried about, let your team do the worrying for you.
5. Expect weird feelings. Contractions, leakage of amniotic fluid, leg numbness from an epidural, rectal pressure from the baby’s head, the bizarre feeling of being awake while undergoing surgery if you have a cesarean delivery — in most cases, these sensations will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
6. Accept that it’s ok to change your mind. Maybe you took classes on hypnobirthing and never thought you would consider an epidural, or opted for a repeat C-section and then decided you wanted to attempt a trial of labor. As long as the alternative is safe, don’t be ashamed if you realize that something you thought you wanted doesn’t feel right when it’s actually happening.
7. Appreciate your nurse(s). Your doctor or midwife may be the one calling the shots, but your nurse is on the front lines. She is there to help ensure your safety and your baby’s. While she is capable of fetching you ice chips or apple juice, having your support person do this can free up your nurse to do important things — like interpreting your baby’s heart rate tracing and communicating with your doctor.
8. Embrace the unpredictable. The only thing predictable about labor and delivery is unpredictability! Expect that everything can change in an instant. This is good preparation for having a newborn.
9. Don’t give up. Labor can be long and hard, especially the first time around. You may need to push for multiple hours until your baby is delivered, after being awake with contractions for close to (or more than!) 24 hours. Dig deep inside to harness the energy you need, and enlist your partner to help inspire you. Let your nurse and doctor know whether you respond better to gentle instructions or drill sergeant-like coaching.
10. Appreciate the total amazingness of your body. Your ovary gave the egg the helped create you baby. Your uterus supported your baby for 40 weeks. And now your body is going to deliver this perfect little human. Regardless of a vaginal or cesarean delivery, you have done a lot of hard work. Realize that whether your labor is just as you envisioned or the opposite of everything you hoped for, the prize at the end will be worth everything.
And if you think the labor and delivery part are hard, just wait until you take your little one home!
Lynsey Caldwell Owen, MD, FACOG, is an ob/gyn at Malcolm Grow Medical Clinic on Andrews Air Force Base, MD, and at For Belvoir Community Hospital, VA.