How a baby is born?
In utero, oxygen is delivered through the placenta to the baby. But when the baby is born and the umbilical cord is clamped shut, the placenta can no longer do its job, so the lungs take over. In the womb, a fetus's lungs are filled with a fluid that helps them mature.
Labor is the normal process that causes a baby to be born. There are regular, painful muscle contractions and dilation of the cervix. It usually happens sometime around the 40th week of pregnancy. There are many ways to have pain relief and your midwife can help you choose which is best for you.
The standard hospital labor position—semi- or fully reclining—is not ideal. When you're lying on your back, your uterus compresses major blood vessels, potentially depriving the baby of oxygen and making you dizzy or queasy. In addition, when you're reclining, the baby's head puts pressure on pelvic nerves in your sacrum, increasing pain during contractions.
Remaining upright and leaning forward reduces this pressure while allowing your baby's head to constantly bear down on your cervix. The result? Dilation tends to occur more quickly. Here are six labor positions to try (those marked with an asterisk(*) can be used if you receive an epidural, though you may need support).
1. Join the head of the class
Take a childbirth course and enroll as early as possible: Not only do classes fill up fast, but some, such as The Bradley Method courses, run 12 weeks, which means you need to start them in your second trimester.
Also, find out what your doctor's philosophy is on Cesarean sections and epidurals versus drug-free ways of managing pain. Ask tough questions—and "stupid" ones, too— to learn about the different stages of labor so you know what to expect. "The better prepared you are, the more choices you have during labor, you don't want to arrive at the hospital without any idea of what's going to happen." Once labor starts, no surprise is a good surprise.
2. Find strength and focus
The most important thing women learn through yoga is how to focus. It also strengthens the entire body, increases flexibility and gives you stamina. But what is possibly even more helpful is that it helps your mind relax. This, in turn, leaves your body free to go about the business of birthing.
3. Nix negativity
Some childbirth educators believe graphic images, catastrophic tales and words of discouragement ("You'll never be able to get that monster out without a C-section!") can affect your subconscious and create a mental block during labor.
At best, negative thoughts make labor stressful; at worst, they'll actually intensify pain. Change the channel on the TV, tune out or walk away when the subject matter makes you uncomfortable; also, shield yourself from scary labor Facebook threads by logging off.
4. Study up
When you're in the grip of labor, it's too late to crack open that self-hypnosis book or locate a birthing ball. Preparation counts.
Case in point: Squatting increases the size of the pelvic opening by about 28 percent. But if you wait until you're in labor to try it for the first time, your squatting stamina won't add up to, well, squat.
5. Secure support
Doulas are nonmedical professionals trained to provide emotional and physical support as well as information to women during pregnancy and labor. Studies have found that with a trained doula's continuous support, labor times are shorter and the need for epidurals, C-sections, oxytocin for induction and forceps were decreased by about half. Another study concluded that women who received support through a hospital- based doula program were more likely to attempt breastfeeding. Check out DONA International (dona.org) to help you locate a certified doula in your area.
6. Have a trick up your sleeve
Learn several effective techniques to manage pain during childbirth, such as self-hypnosis, position changes, heat pack application and different breathing methods. If you don't know what your options are, you don't have any.
7. Get on up
Upright positions, such as standing, walking, kneeling, slow dancing, sitting and squatting, allow gravity to help move the baby down and out. Sometimes, getting the baby into the pelvis is like fitting a key into a lock. You need to do a little jiggling. Rocking back and forth on your hands and knees may help to get the baby into position.
8. Set the scene
For most women, a dark and quiet environment is ideal during labor, so ask your nurse or partner to dim the lights and minimize noise. Little touches make a difference: a favorite pillow, pair of socks or soothing scent. Aromatherapy, especially the scent of lavender, is very calming in labor.
9. Be a water baby
The warmth and weightlessness of a bath can be soothing throughout your labor, so if you have access to a warm tub, take the plunge. (Be sure to get your doctor or midwife's green light before doing so; there's a risk of infection if your water has broken.)
If a soak isn't possible, try taking a shower.
10. Stay true to yourself
Labor transforms you, but it won't make you suddenly love lime Jell-O, New Age music or the sight of your in-laws as you breathe through a contraction. People may push all kinds of suggestions on you during labor; listen but don't feel you have to go along with them.
It's your body, your baby and your labor, so stick to your guns. Consider it practice for when your baby is a teenager.
You can experience contractions even in the first trimester as your body adjusts to the pregnancy. The stretching of the ligaments around the uterus can cause contractions, as can dehydration, constipation and gas pains. If they're accompanied by spotting, bleeding and/or abdominal pain, you need to see a doc to rule out an ectopic pregnancy or a potential miscarriage.
While there are many things you need medical professionals for (we don't advocate DIY ultrasounds, for example), you can perform a self-test to see if you're feeling true contractions: Lie down and place a hand on your uterus. If your entire uterus is hard during the cramping, it's probably a contraction. If it's hard in one place and soft in others, it may just be the baby moving around.
Many contractions that occur after week 34 are random and irregular; these are known as Braxton-Hicks contractions. If contractions come regularly every 10 minutes or less rather than intermittently, you may be in preterm labor. Report any contractions to your doctor or midwife so she can determine what's happening.
If you're not having regular contractions signaling preterm labor, try calming the cramps by drinking plenty of water, taking a warm bath, emptying your bladder and breathing rhythmically.
If you have a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy, orgasms—with or without intercourse—don't increase the risk of premature labor. Likewise, sex isn't likely to trigger labor even as your due date approaches.
If you're close to your due date
While there's no need to time yourself like Olympian Usain Bolt in a 100-meter dash, you or your partner do want to start noting how long the contractions last and the length of the time between them (measured from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next). Are these contractions coming in regular intervals, spaced closely and so painful that it's hard to talk during them (as opposed to little twinges)? You're considered to be in active labor if you have contractions that last for about a minute and come regularly more often than every five minutes.
If you're very uncomfortable during the contractions or if you live far from the hospital or birthing center, your doctor or midwife may recommend that you come in. You'll be assessed every two hours to determine whether or not you're in active labor.
A note about bleeding
Bleeding, whether or not it's accompanied by contractions, is always worth discussing with your doctor or midwife. But not all causes are serious: For example, it's common to experience a small amount of bright red bleeding during intercourse, especially during the first trimester. This bleeding is caused when capillaries in the cervix, which are swollen during pregnancy, become irritated and burst.
Common pregnancy symptoms like spotting and contractions can be harmless or signs of trouble. Here's how to tell the difference.