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What to Expect When You’re in Labor

by R. Carnavale | July 5th, 2012 | Pregnancy

Your pregnancy is drawing to a close and your little one will soon be born. Just before giving birth, you’ll experience labor, so-named because your body will need to put forth physical effort to push the baby down and out.

Signs labor is approaching (you may or may not experience these)

Lightening— you may feel your baby has settled lower in your abdomen. You’ll find it easier to breathe because the baby is no longer pressing against your diaphragm, but your bladder may feel extra pressure, which will increase your need to urinate.

False labor pains (Braxton-Hicks)— occasional, irregular, usually painless contractions that increase in quantity, strength, and pain as your delivery date approaches.

Signs you’re in labor

Contractions: Your uterus will start to squeeze in order to move your baby down the birth canal. You’ll feel cramping, and contractions will be 30 seconds long (early on in labor) to 75 seconds long just before childbirth, and occur in regular intervals. To stay comfortable, you can lie on either your right or left side, rock in a rocking chair, or squat on a low stool or the toilet.

Breaking of water: The amniotic sac that housed your baby may break. You’ll experience feeling a trickle of water down your legs.

Thinning and dilation of the cervix (which is determined by your health care practitioner): Your cervix will become thinner (as thin as a sheet of paper) and will dilate (open) to about 4 inches.

Use the 5-1-1 recipe to determine if it’s time to get to the hospital or birthing center: If your contractions come 5 minutes apart, last 1 minute each, 1 full hour, and you can no longer walk or talk, you’re in active labor and it’s time to get to the hospital or birthing center.

Ways you can prepare for labor

Preregister at the hospital or birthing center and complete paperwork and sort out insurance issues before the big day.

Pack your bag. Here are some items to include:

  • a watch or phone app that counts seconds (to measure the length of contractions and the intervals between them)
  • socks or slippers
  • glasses (in case you’re asked to remove your contact lenses)
  • lip balm for dry lips
  • camera
  • sleepwear that opens in front to allow for breast-feeding
  • a bathrobe
  • underwear
  • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • hairbrush
  • makeup
  • loose clothing to wear on the way home
  • baby outfit with a hat
  • baby blanket

Develop and review your birth plan. Be sure to discuss the plan with your care provider and the partner, friend, or relative you have in the delivery room with you. Here are some important questions you should consider:

  • When should you notify your health care provider that you’re in labor?
  • Do you want to use medications to speed up labor?
  • Do you plan to use an alternative birthing position other than lying on your back?
  • Are you willing to undergo an episiotomy to enlarge the vaginal opening if necessary?
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