When I was pregnant with my first baby I had not many resources other than the internet and YouTube on what to expect and how to prepare for birthing. In retrospect, I was too optimistic thinking everything will go according to my birth plan and there was nothing much to worry about. All I knew then was baby was head down, and I was past 39 weeks pregnant which means full term. I thought these were the main hurdles and the rest can be managed. I was wrong. I was idealistic.
As I have given birth 3 times naturally, I will be sharing 10 tips below on how to have a better birth and post birth experience. Do note that below advice are from my experiences from the perspective of having natural deliveries, but some topics may apply to mothers who will go through C-section births as well.
1. Have a birth plan but be open to unexpected issues that will change It
Especially if this is your first baby, labor will tend to be longer and more difficult. Prior to birthing, you may do all the research on how to time your contractions, the 3 stages of labor, how to push, or how to manage pain without epidural. But, things can change during labor, or your body may not progress fast enough from the initial 1cm dilation to eventually get to 10cm, where you can begin pushing baby out. Sometimes this may require emergency C-section especially if baby heart rate goes down, or if the mother is not making progress in dilation of the cervix, or if there is brown liquid in amniotic fluid when your water has broken indicating that baby has made his first poo while inside and may have risk of meconium aspiration syndrome.
In my case, I had a very difficult first birth experience, with many complications that almost resulted in an emergency cesarean section. I was having consistent contractions but baby did not descend down and it took quite a while for my cervix to dilate. I was then induced with Pitocin (given via drip in my wrist) which made the contractions stronger and faster, and it was agonizing. Before birth I had made the decision not to get an epidural (pain medication that is given through your spine) but after the induction I was asking for it. At that point I was 6cm dilated and it was against their recommendation. I had to get through the pain with other means.
In the end they found out baby was facing the wrong direction (he was sunny side up instead of facing inwards to my spine which was more ideal to fit through my birth canal ) and his head was tilted to one side, which made it difficult for him to pass through the birth cannel to make his way down and out from me. Eventually, the doctor had to use vacuum assistance to get him out and we later discovered he had a case of Torticollis (sprained neck muscles) , which needed physical therapy to correct. Total time in labor from initial contraction to birth was 12 hours. There were more complications at his birth, which I had a difficult time mentally recovering from that year, but I may share that in a a separate post.
Basically, do not hold on so tightly to the ideal birth plan, and be open to possible changes. The main goal would be to have a healthy baby and mother. Set your expectations earlier and you will not feel as shock or upset when things go south during birth. Pre-plan in your finances in the event an emergency C-section is needed, as it can be quite costly in private hospitals. Husbands, your wives will be extremely exhausted after the birth, do note your emotional and physical support is really needed in this time.
2. Breathing techniques can help (during the initial phase of labor)
In my first pregnancy, I came across the Hypnobirthing technique, where it was said that it will enable you to manage the pain via deep breathing techniques and visualization. I did not use any of those, my first labor was a mess with no technique whatsoever, I was just trying my hardest to bear the pain through every contraction in whatever way I could on the hospital bed. At the end of labor after baby finally came out I was completely exhausted.
So what worked for my other labors? I found another method of pain management via a more realistic breathing technique which worked better for me, and it was these breathing techniques that got me through active labor. You can view the 3 breathing methods in the link below. Basically it makes your body do controlled breathing in sequences during all 3 phases of labor, which helps you mentally manage the pain:
But I have to say once I was at 8cm dilation ( transition phase before pushing at 10cm) I was in too much pain and it was harder to maintain these breathing techniques then. However going from 8cm to 10cm was pretty fast so I knew I had to bear it a little longer before I can push baby out and the pain will be gone. Think marathon when you are in labor, you will get to the end.
3. Pain management (Decide before your due date)
Alternatively , if you do not want to go through the breathing techniques mentioned in point 2 above to get through labor, you can opt for an epidural as this is the most effective form of pain relief, and you may not need to think about natural labor pain management. But do your research as for first time births epidurals may slow down labor progress, so you may want to request for a lower dose. Please note also that if you do intend to get the epidural, get it at early labor before pain becomes obvious. If you were to wait till active labor, it will be too late due to
(a) the anesthesiologist may not be available at that time or
(b) you have already progressed to far and the nurses /doctor will deny you to get the epidural.
Other forms of pain management are the laughing gas, which I used. It makes you feel sleepy and it relaxes the mother in between contractions, but it does not reduce the pain during an actual contraction. You will need to practice how to breathe in these gas as well, if you take in too much, you may become too tired to push when it comes time to do so.
They do give a shot of pain killers that is injected via the thigh, but again in my experience it really does not reduce the pain of the contractions, similar to gas. However it will not make you tired.
Do check out the cost of each pain relief as well. In my past labors I did not get epidurals but last check a few years ago it was costly at RM1000 per dose.
One more point, is that if you are going for natural delivery either via taking epidural or not, do not be worried about the pain of gthe stitching at the end. Psst, doctors will apply some numbing cream but even without it, the pain does not compare to the labor pains. So you will not be in shock.
4. Empty your bowels if you are giving birth naturally
This may be too much info, but , hey, you are literally about to push a human baby out your vagina. What’s next to your vagina? Yes, you get it. Usually during pre-labor your body will naturally try to clear it self out ( you may experienced diarrhea or loose bowels a few days before or on the day of birth) . If you do not, the nurses will provide you with a rectal laxative to be taken at early labor. Why? Because the muscles used to push baby out are the same muscles required for bowel movement. After clearing your bowels, pushing will be be easier (and cleaner I suppose) during labor.
5. Your modesty goes out the window (the doctors and nurses have seen it all)
Be comforted knowing that how your body looks and what’s underneath that hospital gown is nothing new to your doctors and nurses, so you don’t have to be shy about it. Heck you will be wearing a hospital gown with nothing on underneath most of the time when you’re in active labor.
6. If you are short-sighted, wear contacts, not glasses
A very simple but good tip to have. If you are going for natural delivery, I would propose to wear your contact lenses instead of your glasses. Why? You will not be laying still when contraction comes. In my first birth, I wore my glasses thinking that labor will go well and I will be calm through it all. Mistake indeed. I was writhing and moving about in the bed trying to manage the pain and I had to take my glasses off to not damage it. Even when baby finally came out , I couldn’t see him clearly (or the room for that matter) since I was pushing without my glasses. In my second and third labor, I wore contacts and it was so much better for movement during labor and for baby when she came out, I could see her well and did skin to skin after birth and breastfeed without the hassle of my glasses sliding down my nose.
7. Afterbirth ( the 3rd stage of labor)
After baby comes out, you will feel a major relief as the contraction has reduced in severity. However , it is not over yet. What comes next is the delivery of the placenta. You will still have mild contractions and then you will need to push the placenta out. If not removed, you will have risk of serious hemorrhaging /bleeding. In my third delivery, the placenta couldn’t come out and I had to be sedated and the placenta extracted manually.
8. Your uterus will still contract after you have give birth
I did not sleep at all the night after I gave birth to my firstborn. Partly due to I was still replaying the birth experience in my head, part due to pain and some due to the nurses were in and out every 2 hours to check on me or to pass baby to me to feed. Another reason was also because I still had feelings of contraction cramps as my uterus continue to contract back to its original size. These are also caused afterbirths, and it gets more painful in subsequent pregnancies. So, do not panic if you feel this after birthing baby.
9. Breastfeeding support – Get guidance from nurses to get baby to latch
Ask the nurses to teach you how to get baby to breastfeed. The key importance is baby’s latch, baby will root at the nipple and latch on. The nurses will guide you (if you ask) on whether the latch is correct and whether baby is drinking well. I requested support from the nurses in all my deliveries, even though I was more experienced the seond and thir birth. Latch baby as long as baby wants, to train baby to latch well and to stimulate your milk production. You may even bring a breast-pump and a feeding syringe (pre-sterilised) in the event baby cannot be with you due to any complications that require baby to be in Nicu or require oxygen ( in my first birth, ny baby had to be supplemented with oxygen ). During this time you may want to pump a and extract out some colustrum (first milk) for baby in syringes to be fed later.
10. Get your spouse to support (Emotionally and physically)
After giving birth, you will be emotionally drained and exhausted, and during this time make it known to your spouse that their support is crucial. My husband checked on baby in the nursery when I couldn’t (due to recovery), and updated me with photos and videos. He helped me to the bathroom and around the hospital halls to see baby. He got me dessert and junk food the night of the birth in the hospital to make me feel better, and we high fived each other at becoming new parents and getting through the whole birth. Basically he was at my side the whole time. This will help you recover faster emotionally as well. So husbands, do take note to play your part here, to support your wife.
The fact is child birth is hard, it was not easy in my first, but it got better in my subsequent deliveries as I had more experience both mentally and physically (mother’s body will progress through labor faster the second time around). Prepare yourself, pray, and get family support. In the end, natural birth or C-section, the end goal will be to have a healthy baby. I empathize with you on your fears and concerns coming from one mother to the next, and I wish you all the best as you prepare for your coming baby.