Labor and childbirth was an amazing, positive experience for me, both
times. I am very fortunate, I know. But I do believe that if you prepare
yourself through education (reading books, reading articles like this one,
taking prenatal classes, etc) and taking good care of yourself while you
are pregnant, you will have a far greater chance of a pleasant birth experience.
There are many things you can do to increase your chances of an empowering
childbirth experience. These are the things I did:
* Pregnancy yoga classes
* Regular Chiropractic care
* Chose a Midwife instead of a doctor
* Hired a doula to be with me through the labor
* Took high quality vitamins, folic acid and natural
iron supplements (made by Flora, derived from natural sources, not metal)
* Took a 18 hour prenatal class from a former midwife
(NOT at a hospital)
* Lastly, I believed, truly believed that my body
knew what it was doing. I was not scared at all. I knew in my heart of
hearts that pregnancy is a healthy state of being, and that my body would
know exactly what to do when the time came. And it did!
So many people seem to enjoy telling stories of excruciating pain during
childbirth. Others will tell you their labor was 87 hours long! I do not
know why women do this to each other. Yes, I will grant you, labor is painful.
But it is also powerful and incredible what your body can achieve!
One important note: I am Canadian, and our medical system is much different
than the United States. BUt I am aware that most visitors to my website
are American, so that is why I often try to include American statistics
and information. One major difference between our two countries is that
midwives in most parts of Canada have hospital privleges, i.e. they are
allowed to deliver babies in hospitals. They perform essentially the same
procedures as doctors, except they do not perform surgery. Whereas doctors
view childbirth in terms of what can go wrong, midwives see childbirth
as a natural process and medical intervention is only necessary in the
event of an emergency.
I had many questions before I gave birth the first time, and the following
onformation is what I leaned about labor and child birth. I am not a doctor,
and I have no medical training whatsoever, so please ask your own doctor
for clarification or more information.
Am I going to be pregnant forever?
In terms of when the average woman gives birth, a woman's due date is
determined to be 40 weeks after her last menstrual period, which is about
280 days. Most women deliver very near their due date, but anywhere from
38 weeks to 42 weeks is normal. You know you are in labor when you have
strong (generally more painful than period cramps) contractions, five minutes
apart, which last for a full minute. The first stage of labor is the longest
and that is when your cervix dilates from 0 to 10 centimetres and becomes
thinned out (or "effaced"). The second stage of labor is the pushing stage,
which begins after you are fully dilated. The third stage of labor is after
your baby is born and you deliver the placenta.
I was worried that my water would break in the supermarket and I would
be mortified. However, the bag of water, (the membrane that surrounds the
fetus and protects it during your whole pregnancy), contains amniotic fluid
and it only breaks at the beginning of labor (mine did) 10% of the time.
It does not hurt. You may not even know it has happened, but you may feel
warm water on your legs. You feel a tiny "Pop!" and then a little fluid
trickles out. It's not a huge gush - I think this is because the baby's
head is acting like a cork. Most commonly, about 90% of the time, your
water breaks when your cervix is fully dilated. Sometimes your midwife
or doctor may break it. When that happens, prostaglandins are released,
and contractions become stronger and more regular, and the progress of
labor speeds up.
Many women also wonder when they should go to the hospital. Your doctor
or midwife will educate you about what they want you to do. Some may want
you to phone the hospital as soon as anything happens. A midwife usually
comes to your house, so you don't have to plan so much as you would with
a doctor. When you get to the hospital, you will need to register at the
Maternity Department. Usually you can do this a few months prior - call
the hospital where you will deliver and find out. Depending, again, on
whether you have a doctor or midwife, a lot of different scenarios can
take place. Also what kind of doctor you have: is he or she someone who
believes that your body knows what to do? Or will he or she insist that
you are given an IV and hooked up to a monitor constantly? You do NOT have
to labor this way, but you need to decide before you choose a doctor what
is important to you and how you want your experience to be. (A birth plan
would be a good option. If you present your birth plan to your doctor and
he or she laughs at you - reconsider using that doctor!)
How long does it take?
Every labor is so different, but generally speaking, first labors take
about 12 to 24 hours. My first labor was about 10 hours but my midwife
said that I was only in "active" labor for 5 hours, which I disagree with
because the first 7 hours were not spent sitting around comfortably!
What about the pain? Is it really that bad?
Answer: I am not going to lie about it, it is painful, but your body
is an amazing machine. I did not take anything for the pain during my labors,
but I was very fortunate to have a wonderful doula and husband who supported
me throughout. Studies have shown that continuous support during labor
decreases the need for pain relief by 60%. See my article entitled "What
would I do without my Doula?" here http://www.pregnancy-leads-to-new-babies.com/doula.html.
What's wrong with having an epidural? Why go through the pain if you
don't have to?
This is simply my opinion - I am not a doctor, but I have done the research.
For me, I was not trying to be a martyr. I just wanted my baby to have
the very best chance of being healthy. Generally, it is true to say that
epidurals are a safe and effective method of relieving pain in labor, but
safe does not mean risk free. There are risks; I would be lying to say
there are none. See Thorp, J.A. & Breedlove, G (1996) Epidural Analgesia
in Labour: An evaluation of Risks and Benefits 23(2) 63-83.
In terms of risks for your baby, epidurals can cause maternal fever
and this can potentially harm your baby. Newborns sometimes also exhibit
poor nursing behavior for up to one month. Many newborns exposed to epidural
anaesthesia in labor are very sleepy and they would rather sleep than nurse,
which can be problematic because the more you nurse at the beginning, the
faster your milk will come in and the better your experience will be. It's
shocking to me that most women take such exceptional care of their babies
while they are pregnant, i.e. no alcohol, no Tylenol, etc., but they willingly
expose their babies to drugs during childbirth without fully educating
themselves of the risks.
Here's something you want not want to know: Hospital-employed childbirth
educators WANT you to have an epidural. Hospitals make a lot of money from
epidurals. The nurse often comes into your room and says, ďAre you ready
for your epidural now?Ē In the U.S.A, an epidural costs from $500 to $2500,
depending on the hospital. The United States spends more money on birth
($50 Billion a year!) than any other nation in the world, without necessarily
getting the best results. The average hospital birth costs $8,000 - $10,000
and that doubles for caesareans, providing very nice profits for obstetricians,
anaesthesiologists and drug companies. Hospital policies are routinely
set based on financial goals. This is a fact, and if you donít believe
it, you are being duped.
Just hear me out on this one: It makes sense, doesn't it? Since midwifery
care and doula care reduces the rates of intervention, they also reduce
the profit for doctors and hospitals. Of course, they will try to convince
you that midwives are dangerous. They want your money!!! That is why, in
Canada, where we have arguably the best government-run medical insurance
system in the world, governments realised that by allowing midwives to
deliver in hospitlas, they are saving millions of dollars.
Back to epidurals (which I am NOT completely against, by the way! I
do believe they are warranted in some cases)If you have an epidural, you
must also have a urinary catheter inserted to empty your bladder. Epidurals
can cause your blood pressure to decrease, so a nurse will check your blood
pressure very often. The nurse or doctor will also periodically rub your
abdomen to make sure there is enough paralysis but not so much that your
breathing becomes impaired.
There is also a domino effect that plays into it as well - once you
have one intervention, you are more at risk for more and more. For example,
a woman who has an epidural is FOUR times as likely to have to have a caesarean
section. Sometimes it relaxes the pelvis so much that you cannot push out
your baby, so the use of Vacuum and forceps are significantly increased.
This means you also have to have an episiotomy (where they cut your perineum
from your vagina to your rectum) in order to get the forceps into your
vagina. SOmetimes there are complications from episiotomies, as you can
well imagine, such as bowel incontinence and urinary incontinence. Note:
According to Childbirth practices researcher Katherine Hartmann, MD, PhD,
close to 1 million unnecessary episiotomies are performed in the U.S. each
year. She says episiotomies are probably medically warranted in fewer than
10% of cases. Currently 1 in 3 American women get episiotomies. Hartmann
is director of the Center for Women's Health Research at the University
of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
The biggest risk of epidural is death - if the anaesthesiologist injects
the wrong dose, or makes a mistake, you're in trouble. You can also be
paralysed (in very rare cases, permanently) due to nerve damage. Let me
repeat, MOST epidurals are safe, but these are some of the risks you need
to be aware of. The evidence of epidural risks is well documented, but
it is not readily available.
Don't you think it is easier for the doctor to be able to "control"
their patient if they are lying still and quiet in the bed, paralysed and
unable to move around? Ask your doctor what percentage of their patients
receive an epidural. Can you go one step further and ask them how much
money they make if they give an epidural? Or of it makes their job easier
if their patient has an epidural? I think that would be very interesting!
If he or she has an alarming rate of epidurals, I would seriously consider
If you are still thinking, "I don't care what anybody says, there is
no way I am going to go through that pain like some freaky natural childbirth
nut", I am here to say that I thought exactly the same way when I was pregnant
- at first. But once I did some reading, I thought, wait a second, maybe
I could at least try to do it naturally. In my birth plan I wrote that
I wanted to try to do it naturally, but if I ask for an epidural, give
me one. (Where we live, Midwives can order epidurals.) I also want to say
that I do believe that in some cases, epidurals are a really good idea.
For example, if you have been laboring a very long time and you need to
rest a few hours so that you can gather your energy to push the baby out.
I was present at my friend's birth as her support person, and she was not
making any progress after about 10 hours. We tried all sorts of positions
and everything, but finally her doctor suggested an epidural and I agreed.
She was able to rest, and calm down, and then it wore off and she was able
to push out her baby without any problems. It was beautiful. (Note: she
did not experience any of the above complications.)
Please educate yourself by reading some of the books I recommend. You
will feel much better about yourself knowing that you did your research
and made the right decision for you. Finally, please take a GOOD prenatal
class and read as much as you can so that you are prepared and educated.
It's your body and your baby!
About The Author
Suzanne Doyle-Ingram is the mother of two daughters, Hana and Alexa,
and married to her best friend James, who is a stay-at-home dad and educational
game developer (and he makes a mean grilled chicken!). Visit her website