The experience that you gained during your first labour is usually a distinct advantage for second-time mums: You’ve researched birthing options, you know what the stages of labour are, you know how different the start of labour feels from Braxton Hicks, you may well have worked out what positions and methods of pain relief work well for you, and, of course, you know just how worth it it all is at the end. If you had a good birth experience last time around then you may even be looking forward to giving birth. But on the other hand, knowing what birth can entail can make you quite anxious about your second birth, particularly if your experience last time around was difficult or very painful. While you might end up having a very similar birth experience with your second baby, there’s no reason to assume that this will be the case, as every baby and every birth is different.
Your older child
One thing will almost certainly be different this time around: You won’t be as completely focused on your birthing experience in the days leading up to labour, and probably in early labour itself, as with your first. Unlike the last time around, you now have another child to take care of, and as you don’t know when labour will start, your first child may be in your sole care when contractions begin. So, instead of only having to think about yourself and how you’re going to make it through the contractions, you also need to think about how to take care of your child and how to manage the contractions when she is there, what, or how much, will you tell her about the contractions and what happens during birth. You’ll probably be anxious to know when reinforcements are going to arrive to look after your first child, and how she’ll cope with the whole experience. If this is something that ‘s causing you anxiety then do plan ahead with what you’re going to tell your child and have at least one back-up plan for how she’ll be taken care of once you go into labour. Remember that as labour can move very quickly this time around you’ll want to have someone ready to look after her who can get to you quite quickly.
When will baby engage?
As with your first baby, there’s no way of knowing exactly when your baby will turn and engage his head at the top of your cervix. What is true is that second babies often engage later than first babies, so if your first baby was head down over a week before you went into labour, don’t be too surprised if this next one seems a little more nonchalant about getting into position.
Will I have a shorter labour this time?
Second labours are often shorter than first labours, but there’s no guarantee that yours will be. If you had a vaginal birth with your last baby then your pelvis and vagina are already ‘proven’, they’ve stretched to allow a baby through once before, and so are usually more efficient at doing this the next time. But if your next labour is shorter than the first one it may also be more intense, precisely because the dilating of the cervix and the stretching of the pelvis and vagina happen more quickly.
Will this baby be bigger?
It’s common for second babies to be a little bigger than first babies, but there is no hard and fast rule. Certainly this is nothing to worry about, as if you had a very big baby last time then you’re more likely to have a slightly smaller baby than an even bigger one this time around.
How can I make sure it doesn’t happen again?
If you didn’t have the birth experience that you hoped for last time around, then you may be anxious to avoid the same kind of things happening this time.
It may be that some of the details that you didn’t like may be avoided next time around with a bit of preparation. For example, if you were unhappy with the care you received you might want to look into having your baby at a different birthing centre or hospital, or even at home. If you weren’t happy with your midwives, or felt you would have done better if you’d built up a relationship with a particular midwife before-hand, then you can look into what options you have in that respect. If you tore or had an episiotomy last time, then try perineal massage leading up to labour, and see whether it’s possible to give birth in a more upright position this time, which may help.
If you had a c-section with your last baby and you want to give birth vaginally this time around then, providing that you have a normal pregnancy, your chances are usually quite good. Have a read up on what you can do to prepare for a vaginal birth after caesarian or VBAC.
Whatever it is that is worrying you, talk it over with your midwife and antenatal class teacher (taking another course is a particularly good idea if you want a different labour experience this time), and see what suggestions they have for ways to prepare yourself.
However, whatever experience you’re anxious to avoid repeating, remember that while you can do much to prepare for the birth experience you want, and you should have every confidence in your ability to birth, there’s no way of knowing how your labour will go and try to avoid setting your heart on things happening in a certain way. How you approach this birth mentally can have a huge impact on how you later feel about how it went, and about any intervention that may turn out to be necessary.
Something that you should be aware of is that afterpains are often significantly more painful the second time around, particularly when you’re breastfeeding your baby, so it’s a good idea to be prepared with some painkillers that are compatible with breastfeeding.