Nine months is a pretty long time to wait for the birth of your child. It’s a journey filled with lots of ups and downs, with the best reward being the delivery of a healthy baby.
Although your delivery day has come – all the signs are there and you’re finally at the hospital – you might have to wait for hours to finally see your little one. The labor process is unique in every woman, including second births and so on.
Labor takes a toll, physically and emotionally. You can read all the books you want but you will never truly know until the time comes.
Having said that, it is important to know the general flow of things so you are prepared and know what to do when your child arrives.
The labor process
One clear indication that your baby is coming is experiencing regular contractions. This is a period called, ‘early labor’ where your cervix dilates and effaces.
The dilation and effacing of your cervix allows your baby to move into the birth canal. As your cervix is slowly opening up, you might notice a discharge from your vagina, which can be clear, pink, or bloody.
Early labor can last for a number of hours or days. First-time moms average longer hours but this will usually shorten for deliveries that follow.
Active labor is when your baby cervix dilates from 6 centimeters to 10. Contractions will be stronger, closer, and a lot more regular.
If it hasn’t already, this is the time when your water breaks. Plus, it’s also the time to get to the hospital.
Active labor can last between four to eight hours, maybe even more. Your baby is ready to be pushed out when you’re fully dilated.
Pushing out a child can take as little as a few minutes to as long as a couple of hours. It usually takes longer for a first-time mother to give birth.
Tips for an easier delivery
Labor will be one of the toughest things you will have to go through. But although the process can be challenging, there are ways to put you at ease.
The steps to take to make childbirth a little easier to bear should start while you’re still pregnant. Here’s what you can do:
1. Make sure to put in time for physical activity
Research has proven that exercise during pregnancy leads to a shorter pushing phase during labor. As such, your labor will be shorter and less painful.
The best exercises for pregnant women are of the cardiovascular variety. So take your pick from biking, running, walking, and other variants so you keep your heart rate healthy, increase your circulation, and release endorphins – which help keep you happy.
2. Do Kegel exercises
Kegel exercises strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floors through simple clench-and-release routines. The stronger your pelvic floor muscles, the easier time you will have to push a baby out.
You can start doing Kegels at any time during pregnancy. Doing them after you’ve given birth also helps strengthen and tone your pelvic floor muscles.
3. Try stretch-based exercises
While Kegels make your pelvic muscles stronger, stretch-based activities such as Pilates, yoga, or deep squats lengthen and loosen muscles used during labor. Think of them as ways to mentally manage pain during labor.
During a yoga session, you will hold in a certain position for around a minute. This kind of training can help a lot during labor.
Contractions last for a minute and they are uncomfortable. Your yoga training allows you focus on your breath before releasing.
4. Get some essential oils
Essential oils have been used as a treatment for many years. They contain ingredients that affect your brain’s serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels.
You can choose to massage them into your body or opt to diffuse so you inhale the mist. Either way, the oils penetrate the cells and can influence your neurological and endocrine system.
Rose oil can be used to ease labor pain, black pepper oil to increase endurance and stamina, and lavender oil to lessen inflammation caused by a vaginal delivery.
5. Have sex
Anyone who has ever watched Friends knows that Ross and Rachel try to have sex to get their overdue baby out because it was a legitimate medical suggestion. Yes, pregnant sex can be awkward but it can be effective in triggering the natural painkilling chemicals of the body.
An orgasm leads your uterus to contract, something that happens during labor. Getting regular orgasms during pregnancy helps your body associate the sensation with pleasure.
6. Get in the tub
Water therapy is an effective way to relieve pain during early labor. It may be a good idea to soak in the tub when you feel early contractions to ease the intensity.
7. Go to childbirth class
When you’re pregnant, getting all the help you need prepares you for what’s to come. Attending a childbirth class can help you feel less anxious which leads to easier labor.
8. Find ways to distract yourself
Early labor can last for long hours. It’s understandable to panic but there are ways to distract yourself from doing so:
- try taking a walk
- get into the shower
- make something in the kitchen
Basically, do something that will relax you.
9. Get a massage
Ask those accompanying you for a massage. Research has shown that massages help women feel less pain and anxiety when giving birth.
Putting pressure on a pain area softens the pain messages sent to the brain.
10. Ask for an epidural
An epidural is a regional anesthesia inserted through a catheter into the spinal cord. It numbs you from the waist down and as such, can make the labor process less painful.
Note that epidural may make your labor pain free but it can prolong the labor by numbing sensory nerves, thus eliminating pain signals that produce an urge to “push”.
Many women feel guilty for asking for an epidural during labor because it takes away from the experience of a natural childbirth. But that shouldn’t be the case as giving birth is painful and scary.
You have every right to choose how you deal with labor.