Labour and birth
As your due date approaches, you will understandably be feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement. This section looks at all areas of labour and birth, from preparation and the early signs to watch out for, to pain relief and the stages of labour.
Preparing for labour
One of the first ways to prepare yourself for impending labour is to attend antenatal classes. You can avail of classes offered by your hospital, which may include a tour of the delivery suites, or opt for private classes at a time that suits you.
Antenatal classes will cover the stages of labour, pain relief options, various positions for giving birth, as well as information on pelvic floor exercises, newborn care, breastfeeding and general wellbeing.
In the final weeks of your pregnancy, it is a good idea to practise your breathing exercises, get plenty of rest and eat well. Your body needs to be as rested and strong as possible for labour, and this includes a little exercise – a gentle walk would be ideal.
For more information on getting organised before labour, click here.
Deciding where to give birth
Whether you opt for a home birth or a hospital birth is up to you. Around 98% of women choose a hospital delivery, where the benefits include a range of pain relief (including epidural, which is not an option for home delivery) and a medical team on hand should the need arise. More information on what to expect with a hospital delivery, what to bring with you and how to prepare can be found here.
However, many women feel more comfortable and relaxed in their own environment at home, and therefore choose to deliver their baby there with midwife assistance. Doing your research and speaking to midwives and other women who have opted for a home birth is a good starting point when making this decision. More information can be found here.
Am I in labour?
Early labour signs, such as backache and “period pain”-type feelings can sometimes be easy to miss, as you may already be feeling uncomfortable. For classic signs of what to look out for, click here.
If you think you may be in labour, if your waters have broken, or if you have any concerns, phone your midwife for advice.
Pain relief options
In the early stages of labour, a soothing bath can be a wonderful way to relieve pain. Many women also opt to deliver in a birthing pool, and research shows that a water birth can not only reduce pain and help labour progress, but it also reduces chances of tearing.
TENS machines, birthing balls, having your partner massage your back, and walking around to keep things moving are also helpful in the early stages.
As labour progresses, you may choose to avail of more pain relief options as detailed here.
Stages of labour
During the first stage of labour, your cervix opens and dilates. In the early stage, your cervix will open to 3-4cm, often before any other signs of labour have appeared. Labour is not said to be “established” until you are 3cm dilated. Contractions will start and you will find these become more regular and rhythmic over time. You will then progress to active labour where your cervix continues opening from 4cm to 10cm. Contractions will be more powerful now, lasting about a minute and occurring every 2-3 minutes.
The second stage of labour starts with the urge to push. This stage lasts from just a few minutes, to several hours. It is important to keep focussed and listen to your midwife or doctor, who will guide you through this stage.
The third stage occurs after your baby is born. Your uterus continues to contract, allowing you to deliver the placenta. It is common practice for your midwife to give you an injection to speed up delivery of the placenta, allowing you to continue cuddling your newborn.