All about your labour

Labour pains? Water births? If you haven’t got a clue about labour then don’t worry; our midwife passes on her advice and tips

You can have a home birth if you prefer

Dealing with labour pains

  • Get wet. Being submerged in water provides excellent pain relief.
  • Feel the pulse. A TENS machine transmits gentle electrical pulses through your skin via self-adhesive pads, to help your body release natural painkilling endorphins.
  • Try hypnotherapy. Learn relaxation, breathing and visualisation techniques to reduce fear, tension and pain.
  • Take a deep breath. It’s difficult to tense up when you breathe out, so focus on a long outward breath with your contractions.
  • Use massage. This can be relaxing and help your body to release the hormone oxytocin, which keeps the contractions coming.

Preparing yourself for the birth

  • Try pregnancy yoga to learn about birth posture and get relaxation tips.
  • Get your partner to massage your back and shoulders so you can let him know what you like and what you don’t.
  • Pelvic floor exercises will give you an awareness of the muscles you’ll be using to control the birth of your baby.
  • Practice breathing techniques doing something uncomfortable. Try it while clutching ice wrapped in a towel.
  • Increase your stamina for labour by keeping fit – even a short daily walk will help.

Ways to help you have a natural birth

  • Consider a homebirth. You may feel more in control in a familiar, relaxed environment.
  • Use a birthing pool, as the warm water will help you to relax.
  • One-to-one support can reduce the likelihood of a c-section, so think about asking your mum to be there.
  • Keep moving or stay upright during labour and tell your birth partner in advance to encourage you to be active.
  • Attend antenatal classes so you’re well informed and can make your own choices in labour.

Ways to help you have a shorter labour

  • Keep off the bed. Standing or kneeling while in labour encourages your baby to move down the birth canal and puts more pressure on your cervix, encouraging it to open.
  • Avoid an epidural if possible. An epidural can slow down labour.
  • Move it mama. Don’t just sit back and wait for your baby to appear – keeping mobile in labour can encourage him to move through the pelvis.
  • Boost energy. Keep energised by snacking on carb-rich snacks and drinking juice.
  • Pace yourself. If you get too tired, labour can start to slow down.

Boost your energy during labour

  • Pace yourself. Don’t leap out of bed at 3am as soon as mild contractions begin. While you can still sleep, do.
  • Eat. Your body needs energy to work effectively, so make time to eat, even if all you have is a slice of toast with some jam on it.
  • Drink. Get in a couple of bottles of high-energy drinks for when you’re tired or you’ve lost your appetite.
  • Bath. Warm water allows you and your muscles to relax. It also helps you to rest between contractions during labour, so consider using a birthing pool.
  • Relax. Try to learn some visualisation or breathing exercises so you’re not burning nervous energy.

Extra hospital bag treats for you

  • Sweeties. Whatever you fancy – the aim’s to keep your mouth moist.
  • Hairband. The thick cotton kind you wear to put on make-up or when exercising. Great for absorbing sweat.
  • Playlists. Compiling your fave tunes beforehand on your MP3 player will make for easy listening during labour.
  • Magazines. To take your mind off things if labour’s slow.
  • Socks. Believe it or not, your feet can get cold during labour.
  • MP3 player with headphones. Helps to distract you from the contractions and other noises around you.
  • Small fleecy blanket. Some women labour on all fours with a blanket providing a tent over them.
  • Sports drinks. High in energy, they help to prevent exhaustion.
  • A mirror. No, no, not for reapplying lipstick, but to let you to see your baby’s head emerge as you give birth.

Things to expect after the birth

  • Heavy bleeding that gets lighter after a few days. It can last up to six weeks.
  • Afterpains happen as your uterus contracts: expect period-type pains, particularly if you’ve had a baby before.
  • Engorged breasts develop as your milk comes in around three days after the birth, and settle down 48 hours later.
  • Feet and ankles can swell in the days following the birth.
  • Baby blues – you may feel tearful around day three, but in most cases this will pass within a couple of days.

Preparing  yourself for labour

  • Antenatal classes. A great place to chat to mums with similar due dates.
  • Exercise. Even just walking will help build up your stamina for labour.
  • Raspberry leaf tea. Taken from 35 weeks, it can help tone the uterus and soften the cervix in preparation for labour.
  • Relaxation techniques. Start learning what works for you now.
  • Pelvic floor muscles. Pulling in eight to 10 times, three times a day, will teach you how to use these muscles and make it easier to push your baby out.

How birth partners can help during labour

  • By understanding that it’s all about helping you to cope with pain, not trying to find a cure or solution to it.
  • By encouraging you to use long breaths out during contractions.
  • By reminding you to keep your face relaxed as frowning causes everything else to tense up.
  • By offering frequent drinks and snacks to keep energy levels up, as you’ll probably forget to ask for them.
  • By being your ‘voice’ when you need somebody to stand up for you.

Reasons to try a water birth

  • It’s one of the most effective forms of pain relief during labour.
  • You can easily move into different positions as the buoyancy from the water takes your weight.
  • Your pelvic floor muscles are more relaxed when immersed in water. The warm water also eases backache.
  • Women who have water births are less likely to need an epidural and may have a shorter first stage of labour.
  • You can still get out and use gas and air if you need something stronger! 

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