No matter how much a mother wanted to become pregnant, she can find the prospect of labor at the end of the pregnancy to be scary. Popular media often depicts labor and delivery as an intensely painful event. Mothers who have been through it often can't find the words to accurately describe what labor is like because it's not easily comparable to any other experience. And of course, every mother experiences labor somewhat differently – often the same mother can have vastly different labor experiences with different pregnancies – so there's really no telling what you're in for until it happens. However, there are some things that you can do to increase your chances of having an easier, less uncomfortable labor.
Stay Active During Your Pregnancy
Pregnancy can make keeping up with your usual fitness routine difficult. During some periods of your pregnancy, you may feel tired or sick and not up to exercising. You might also have concerns about the effects of physical exertion on your growing baby. But it's in your best interest to stay as active as possible during your pregnancy.
In most low-risk pregnancies, ordinary exercise is not only safe, it's desirable. Staying physically fit can help you achieve a shorter labor, and regular exercise improves your endurance, making it easier for you power through those difficult hours in labor. If you're not feeling up to keeping up your pre-pregnancy workout routines, substitute walking, swimming, or a prenatal exercise class that maintains a pace you can handle.
Line Up Support
When you're in labor, you're in a very vulnerable position, and it can be difficult to advocate for yourself as a patient. It's easy to feel bewildered by medical professionals performing procedures that you may not fully understand in the moment, or simply overwhelmed by the whole ordeal. All of this can cause stress that can actually make the physical sensations of labor even more difficult to handle. Having someone in the room that can provide support, explanations, and assistance can help you feel more relaxed and empowered.
While many women choose to have their partners in the room when they're in labor, your partner may not be able to provide all the support that you need in the moment. After all, your partner is also emotionally involved in the birth, and may also feel overwhelmed or underinformed. You can hire a continuous support person, called a doula, to provide the guidance, support, and advocacy that you need to feel in control of your labor. Studies show that mothers who use doulas are less likely to need Pitocin or a Cesarean section, less likely to feel the need for pain medication, and are more likely to feel satisfied with their birth experience.
Don't Rush to the Hospital
On TV, mothers are often portrayed as having to rush to the hospital as soon as contractions begin, and may be shown to be at risk of giving birth in the car or somewhere else along the way. In real life, mothers usually have plenty of time to get to the hospital. For a first-time mother, labor lasts about 16 hours on average, and the longest part of that labor is the earliest stage, which can last for 8 to 10 hours. Once you get to the hospital or birthing center, there isn't much to do but focus on your labor, and that can make the milder early stages of labor more uncomfortable than they might otherwise be.
Unless you live far from the hospital or birthing center, or you're at high-risk and your doctor has told you to head to the hospital at the first signs of labor, you may be better off taking your time about getting to the hospital. Watch a movie, take care of any last-minute chores, or make yourself something to eat. In other words, distract yourself for a while. You'll be less focused on the contractions and will feel more comfortable for a longer period of time than you would if you were sitting in a hospital bed waiting for the next stage of labor. Consider taking a walk – not only will it take your mind off of those early labor pains, it can also help your labor progress to the next stage sooner, shortening the experience overall.
Talk to your OBGYN about your birth plan well ahead of time, and discuss strategies that will help reduce discomfort and give you more control over your labor. The more information and strategies you have ahead of time, the easier your labor will be. Click here to find out more.