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Labor and Delivery – Preparing Yourself for the Big Day

As much as we enjoy pregnancy and the thought of having a child, every mother secretly – or not so secretly – dreads the actual delivery. Delivery, even if you’ve been through it before, is hard work and is sometimes a little scary. However, as with any hard job, the better prepared you are, the easier the job becomes.

One of the first things you need to do is educate yourself. Read as many books as you can and spend time on pregnancy websites where other mothers share their stories. In addition, there are a number of books available that deal specifically with preparing for labor and delivery, including exercises you can do to prepare your body and steps you can take to prepare your mind.

By the middle of your pregnancy, you should choose a method of childbirth preparation. Research each delivery method carefully and consider your own personal feelings and religious beliefs. Know your philosophy and approach to birth and find an instructor that shares it, whether you want an un-medicated, natural delivery, or a delivery with all the pain relief that an epidural can deliver. You may actually want to develop a written birth plan to help you set forth your desires and preferences regarding the delivery.

In addition to preparing by taking childbirth classes, talk with your health care provider about your concerns and fears. A good provider will take your questions and concerns seriously, and not brush you off. If your provider brushes you off, or offers any variation of “Don't worry about that,” consider choosing another provider – you need someone who will support you throughout your pregnancy, silly questions and all.

In fact, choosing your health care provider makes a huge difference in how you labor and delivery. Some health care providers, for example, won’t allow you to eat during labor or labor in a birthing tub. Others will insist on continuous fetal monitoring, while some will favor only intermittent monitoring as long as you and the baby seem to be doing well. If you want to avoid an episiotomy, for example, but your provider has a 80% episiotomy rate for first-time moms, you have an 80% change of having an episiotomy, whether you need one or not.

You should not only choose a health care provider who will support you in your desires, but a birthing location as well. Sometimes, your health care provider can override hospital policies – at other times that will be impossible. For example, if the hospital requires all newborns to be observed for 30 minutes in the nursery after birth, and that’s something you don’t want unless your baby's health requires it, you may be delivering at the wrong hospital.

And as you make your preparations for labor and delivery, do everything you can to remain as low risk as possible. This means eating a healthy diet and getting the right kind of exercise. The right kind of exercise is designed to help you build your endurance – think walking or swimming – and to specifically strengthen and increase the flexibility of the muscles you’ll use most during birth, like your thigh and pelvic muscles.

Practice the relaxation techniques you’re learning in childbirth class. You may also want to consider hiring a doula, a medical practitioner whose function is to provide support to the family throughout delivery. Studies have shown that women who are attended by a doula have shorter labors, use less medication, and have lower C-section rates. Ideally, you’ll want your health care provider and doula to meet before your birth, so be sure to allow time for this meeting.

The final thing you should do to prepare yourself for delivery is to realize that delivery is a natural process, not something entirely within our control. We can influence it, certainly, but we must be flexible and open to handling whatever circumstances arise. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to get through delivery safely, with you and your baby in good health – even if that means abandoning a carefully laid out birth and delivery plan.

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