All About You
Pack your bags and put them by the door! No need to stress about what to bring; we've got a checklist of the absolute necessities and some luxuries that might make your experience a little more comfortable and enjoyable. Even if you plan a home birth, you should pack a small suitcase.
These last few weeks of pregnancy can be so hard; you're deep in the waiting game! Braxton Hicks contractions are more frequent and intense. You may feel large and ungainly but, unless your water has broken, it's fine to have sex. As a matter of fact, intercourse and nipple stimulation are some methods people use to induce labor naturally.
You're at a milestone: 38 weeks marks full-term pregnancy status! The pain of backaches and leg cramps are swallowed up by excitement about your baby's impending arrival. You may experience false contractions off and on throughout the day. Inside your body, your cervix is readying for delivery. You may notice clear to white vaginal discharge, sometimes streaked with blood, as your cervix thins (or effaces).
What to Expect During Labor
"Labor" can be a confusing term. Most often in TV and in movies, a pregnant woman announces, "It's time," rushes to the hospital, and within minutes delivers her baby. In real life, labor is more often a process than a quick event.
Labor can be divided into three phases: the first phase, or latent phase; the second phase, or active labor; and the third phase, or transitional labor, which prepares you to deliver.
The First Phase: The first phase of labor can last for a few hours or a few days, but the contractions you'll experience during this phase will be fairly short and manageable.
At this point in your labor you should be able to continue your normal routine. You can still do the dishes, fold laundry, and watch TV. In fact, your doctor or midwife has probably given you instructions to keep track of how many contractions you're having in a hour, but to wait to call her until the contractions are intense and close together (the second phase of labor).
In your body, your cervix thins and opens in response to these contractions. Your cervix will open to about three centimeters during this first phase.
Some circumstances indicate you should call your healthcare provider right away, such as your water breaking. Also, if you tested positive for the group B strep virus (a potentially harmful virus if not treated with medication), your doctor may want you to receive antibiotics in the hospital as soon as labor begins.
The Second Phase: During the second phase of labor, contractions become more regular and intense. Instead of several minutes apart, your contractions will come three to five minutes apart and last for more than 30 seconds. And how your experience the contractions will change, too. Instead of a constant dull pain, your contractions will start comfortably and then peak in an intense pain before subsiding. This phase generally doesn't last as long as the first phase, usually hours not days.
Once your contractions become regular and strong, you should let your healthcare provider know. Your doctor will probably ask you several questions about your contractions to determine if it's time to go to the hospital or whether you're still in the first phase of labor.
In your body, the cervix is being stretched apart with each contraction. The cervix wall thins (or effaces) to make it easier for your baby to pass. Your water may break during this phase, or your doctor may break it for you to speed up your labor. At the end of this phase your cervix will be opened (or dilated) to four to seven centimeters.
At the hospital, your heart rate and the baby's will be monitored. You may also receive IV fluids and medications. As the contractions intensify, you may want to start your coping strategies, whether you're practicing breathing techniques or receiving pain medications.
The Third Phase: The last phase is also called the transition phase because you're almost ready to push and deliver your baby. In this phase, your contractions will continue to lengthen and intensify.
As with the second phase, you'll need coping techniques to guide you through the pain in this stage, whether you've chosen breathing, homeopathic remedies, or medication.
Your cervix will stretch from seven to 10 centimeters so that your baby will have a wide enough opening to go through.
Toward the end of this phase you'll have the urge to push, but wait until your healthcare provider or labor nurse tells you it's time. "When the cervix is not fully dilated, pushing the baby down can cause swelling and actually delay labor," explains certified nurse midwife Dr. Joanne Motino Bailey, PhD.
Deliver: Now that your cervix is fully dilated, you're ready to push. Your healthcare provider, doula, or nurse (maybe even a combination of all three) will guide you through pushing your baby out the cervical opening, past the birth canal, and into your arms.
If for some reason your labor seems stalled, your healthcare provider may recommend a Cesarean section. There are a variety of reasons for a C-section, but according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), "about one third of Cesarean births are done because labor does not progress normally."
With a Cesarean delivery your recovery time will be longer than with a vaginal birth. As with any major surgery, your incision will need time to heal. You should not place any weight on the abdominal area, including your baby. So, you may need to nurse lying down instead of sitting up to keep pressure off your incision for a while after birth.