Everything You Need to Know Before Labor // A First-Time-Mom Guide to Labor

5 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE Labor

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I am not one of those girls that read up on pregnancy and birth or that attended any pregnancy classes (although they were offered), so partially it’s my fault that I was so unprepared for what lied ahead.

I assumed (to my own detriment) that it would be no huge deal that I was delivering 2 weeks before my last set of finals for before completing my bachelors (I know 🤦‍♀️, what was I thinking?).

So, in hopes of helping another first-time momma out, here are the things I wish I knew before I stepped foot into the hospital.

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What you will read about:

I. Labor is painful.

II. It’s ok to get the epidural.

III. Things never go as planned.

VI. Awareness and communication are key.

V. What hospital bag?


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1. Labor is painful.

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No really (you’re probably wondering, nothing I haven’t heard).

I heard it too, but I never grasped just how bad things would get.

My body did things I never expected were even possible and the pain was unimaginable (not everyone has it this bad, though, and each delivery is different, so don’t overwhelm yourself).

But awareness and preparedness would have helped me.

I wanted to go natural, and I wish I knew what that meant.

What I’d recommend if you want to go natural:

  • Read and do your research.  

There are a lot of natural ways to alleviate pain like massages and baths (I have provided some examples below).

Know them!

Take some classes and be prepared because you will not be in the right mind to learn, let alone consider, anything once you are in labor.

  • Be determined.  

Knowing that I had an escape route really did affect my decisions when the going got tough.

So, don’t consider alternatives, to you at that moment they don’t exist.

  • Distract yourself!

Makeup blogger, Alaha, shows us that surviving painful contractions requires distractions!

Her idea of distraction just happens to be awesome!

It really is a mind game, though.

Distracting your mind off of the pain can really go a long way and you’ll be holding your baby in no time!

  • Get a cheerleader.

Having someone who believes in you (even if it’s yourself) is essential to overcoming any obstacle.

Usually, the hospital staff isn’t much of the support team when it comes to natural births, but you might get lucky!

  • Stay home as long as possible.  

Now, this is primarily for me.

DO NOT assume this to be true across all labor situations, go to the hospital when you feel you need to.

But, because I dislike being a patient in hospitals in general (but who does), it made my labor so much worse than it had been before I got there (needless to say, my lady parts were handled very roughly during the check-in, so much so that I’ve developed a fear of lying on hospital beds).

Here are some ways you can cope with the pain of labor!

  • Move around and try new positions.

If the position you’re in is not working, change it!

From personal experience, moving around before or during contractions actually felt worse initially, especially the further you are progressed in labor.

However, if you wait it out for two to three cycles, you could start to tell if the change actually alleviates some pain.

Here are just some positions you could try, there are literally dozens more out there!

Sitting on a chair or a birthing ball

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Walking around

Standing

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Swaying or rocking either while standing or sitting

On all fours, on your hands and knees

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Sitting on a toilet

Laying on your side

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Lunging forward

Leaning on your partner or a wall

Dangling as your partner supports you either while standing or sitting (or a “standing supported squat”)

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Sitting with lifted feet

Squatting (although not recommended after 10cm)

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  • Get into some water.

Although I didn’t get to try it myself, I had a friend who managed to deliver naturally and quickly by taking a hot bath.

The sound and pressure of the water is both soothing and calming.

Try taking a hot shower or bath and see if it helps!

As a side note, some physicians don’t recommend getting into the water when you’re under 4 cm as it might slow labor down.

  • Counterpressure.

This is especially beneficial with “back labor”.

Yes, there is such a thing.

What made my contractions painful was the fact that the majority of the pain was concentrated in my lower back.

This is a tell-tail sign of a posterior baby or when the baby’s back is against mom’s back.

Applying strong, consistent pressure against your sacrum (the bone right above your tailbone) will help alleviate that pain.

However, it can also prevent the progression of labor and should only be used for temporary pain management.

  • Breathing.

For some people, rhythmic breathing, or more like panting, helps manage the pain.

Labor is mostly a mind game.

Yes, it is physically painful, but the right mindset can go a long way, which leads me to the next recommendation.

  • Distract yourself.

The more you take your mind off of the pain, the easier it will be to cope.

Remember, when you’re anxious and afraid your body responds by releasing stress hormones which in turn can amplify the discomfort you’re already feeling.

  • Just relax.

Just let labor proceed and stop fighting it.

That can be quite terrifying, especially if you’re someone like me who likes to be in control.

However, being tense could actually slow your labor down.

Just remember, every labor is unique for every woman and so pain management varies both from woman to woman and from birth to birth.

What may work for someone might not work for you.

These are just recommendations, so just keep on experimenting as you go.

Some other forms of pain management interventions offered include aromatherapy (use of essential oils), electrotherapy (use of electric nerve stimulation or TENS), and audio-analgesia (use of music or talk, sound), among others.

What I’d recommend if you’re planning on getting the epidural:

  • Get to the hospital.

As soon as you feel it coming on!

Step on it, and fast!

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2. It’s ok to get the epidural.

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So I am actually nervous posting this as I have noticed that there is a HUGE following on social media for natural births, so much so that I feel I might get a backlash, but it’s ok!

I feel those of us who end up getting an epidural are left feeling like complete wimps and failures.

It’s not spoken of, but it is felt.

The cherry on the top for my birth story has to do with my midwife bragging about how she voluntarily opted out of an epidural… after I had been given mine.

I know how the shame feels.

So, this is for those of you that feel that pressure to deliver naturally.

Let me begin by saying that I am ALL FOR a natural birth.

The thought of a needle going into my spine was frightening, to say the least.

My birth plan stated that I did not want any sort of medicated pain interventions.

Had my circumstances been different and had I actually prepared myself, I like to think that I would have done it naturally.

But that shouldn’t matter.

It all dates back to when I heard about how much my mom went through to deliver me (this was behind the iron curtain of what was Soviet Ukraine mind you).

I gained so much respect and admiration for her, and at the same time, I developed a strong fear of labor.

Seriously!

It was rough!

To make things even more complicated, I felt that in order to gain my own daughter’s respect I HAD TO then go through that myself (false and horrible mindset, you tracking?).

But that’s what I had allowed myself to be convinced of.

So, when my own delivery came along, and it did not go as expected (on top of everything, I was still recovering from a terrible case of stomach flu), I got the epidural.

What ensued was the heaviest guilt and self-shaming I had ever experienced, instead of enjoying what was an incredibly blessed and easy birth.

I did not tear at all!

Looking back, it’s silly, but at the moment I just wanted to cry because I felt like such a failure.

Mom guilt is real and it’s heavy.

So, here’s from a momma who has been there, it’s ok! You’re not weak!

Pregnancy was tough, and if it wasn’t, then wait until your baby comes.

You’ll be showing your strength and love every day, save it because you’ll need it.

TRY to go natural if you want to, and if you can’t, don’t beat yourself up!

Don’t get caught up in the moment, there’s an entire lifetime ahead!

What I’d recommend:

  • Surround yourself with supportive people. 

Make sure those who are surrounding you during your delivery won’t push you down more if you do make an unexpected decision.

  • Talk about what’s bothering you. 

What helped me get over the guilt was talking about it with my husband and mom about it.

They really gave me the perspective on what’s really important.

Also praying and giving it to God also helped me!

  • Remember, the most important thing is for baby and momma to be healthy.  

Sure the epidural has risks, but sometimes not getting interventions poses the greater risk.

I prayed before I got the epidural, so that helped me have the peace of mind that everything would be alright.

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Know Your Pain Medication Options

If you are planning on opting for medicated pain interventions, know your choices.

Here are the main three usually offered:

  • Epidural.

It is important to note that the epidural is not administered the same as it was even 10 years ago.

The dosage is much lower and it is administered incrementally, in drips, and you control the amount of medication you receive.

So, you don’t lose complete feeling below your waist in one shot and it doesn’t “run out”.

Additionally, the overall risks associated with epidurals, c-section or spinal headaches, are almost negligible.

Now, you can receive the epidural at any point of your labor, it’s never too late (unless your baby is already coming out, then it is) (1).

  • Spinal Block.

This is another type of analgesic administered through the spine.

However, unlike the epidural, which takes about 10-25 minutes to work, the spinal offers instant pain relief but only for about 45 minutes.

It is commonly used during c-sections and can also be used in combination with the epidural to offer both quick and lasting relief (1).

  • Opioids.

These include Demerol, Stadol, and Fentanyl, among others.

The only difference is that these opioids are delivered via IV, and, unlike the ones administered via the spine, these actually get into baby’s bloodstream.

Both mom and baby experience drowsiness and grogginess, respectively.

They take about 10-20 minutes to work and last about 3 to 4 hours (1).

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3. Things never go as planned.

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As touched on in the previous section, just because you make a plan doesn’t mean things will follow accordingly.

I planned on receiving no pain interventions, but labor happened and that flew out the door.

Having a plan is important, especially when you want hospital staff to do things a certain way, but understand that labor is unpredictable and so you must prepare yourself for the unexpected.

What I’d recommend if you want to stay as close to plan as possible:

  • Make a plan.  

Well, first you would have to sit down and decide on a plan.

Usually, your doctor will hand over a sheet for you to fill out outlining things you’d possibly like to be done during your delivery.

Don’t be like me and actually do your research into things like cord banks and other things you might not understand.

You might discover something you otherwise wouldn’t have had you assumed you knew your options.

  • Share your plan.  

Telling those that will accompany you during delivery what you’d like to be done will do the most in terms of keeping things on track.

You yourself won’t be in the state of mind to ensure that.

  • Bring your plan.

Print it out (and maybe even a couple of copies to hand out to staff) and don’t forget it in the car like I did.

I think having it there would have also helped me in keeping as much on track as possible because in the chaos you and everyone around you tend to forget what was in the plan.

Things to Consider When Making a Plan

  • Will you be wanting pain medication, and, if so, what type(s).
  • If you consent to a potential episiotomy?
  • Intermittent monitoring?
  • Cervical exams? Minimal or as requested?
  • Membrane sweep?
  • If you would like an IV to be done?
  • Would you like music? Television?
  • How would you like the lights?
  • If you would like the freedom to walk around?
  • Do you want immediate skin-to-skin and breastfeeding?
  • Who will be cutting the cord and when? Delayed or not?
  • Will you be banking the cord?
  • Will you be saving the placenta?
  • Do you want your baby to be bathed by the staff?
  • What medical assessments are you consenting to, for baby? Vitamin K? Hepatitis B? Antibiotic eye ointment?
  • If you want to use a pacifier or not?
  • If you would like to breastfeed, formula feed or both.
  • If you would be ok to have student observers?
  • If you would like visitors or not and when?
  • In the case of an emergency, who would be in charge of making decisions for you.

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4. Awareness and communication are key.

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This is more for those with you, whether it be a significant other, friend or family member.

From my own experience, I was in too much pain to be aware of the negligence of my delivery nurse.

My husband had noticed it and made me aware of his dislike for how she was treating me.

She was in a rush to be somewhere and didn’t bother checking the progression of my labor.

Looking back, I was clearly in the transitional phase of labor, and she knew it.

I had been completely dilated and ready to push for some time.

Know what you should expect from labor and let you support team know as well so that they can speak up for you when you might not be able to!

What I’d recommend:

  • Have an extra set of eyes and ears.  

This is that person with you.

As suggested earlier, make sure they’re informed and aware of your preferences.

Then have them be aware and attentive to things going on while you focus on taking care of you and baby.

  • Communicate. 

It’s important to let those around you know how you feel as they might also see something you don’t and speak up for you.

  • Give confidence in authority.  

Although you are the primary decision maker in your birthing situation, giving the person with you a strong voice in the situation also (to speak on your behalf when you can’t) further strengthens the possibility of following close to plan.

Let the staff know that they should listen to that specific person.

And if at any point that person becomes irresponsible, you can always revoke their authority!

Know What to Expect With Each Stage of Childbirth

The last thing you want to be during labor is surprised.

Know what to expect with each stage of labor (2) so that you are more aware of what is normal and what isn’t and communicate it to your team.

  • Early Labor (don’t need to go to the hospital yet, unless water breaks)
    • Backache
    • Menstrual-like cramping
    • Diarrhea
    • Indigestion
    • Lower abdominal pressure and/or warming
    • Contractions that feel different, don’t go away, and actually progressively get stronger, last longer (30 seconds or longer), and have shorter breaks (still about 5-7 minutes apart).
    • Bloody show or mucus plug
    • Water breaks
    • Cervical dilation up until 3 cm
  • Active Labor (time to go to the hospital!)
    • Diarrhea
    • Vomiting
    • Increasing bloody show or mucus plug
    • Increasing backache
    • Fatigue and anxiety
    • Water breaks
    • Contractions are about 60 seconds long, about 3-5 minutes apart, and require concentration and pain management.
    • Cervical dilation 4-6 cm.
  • Transitional Labor
    • Feeling prominent heat or coolness
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Drowsiness
    • Fatigue
    • Panic and emotional instability
    • Water breaking
    • Strong pressure in the lower back and in the rectum (could include the urge to push or not)
    • Increased bloody show
    • Contractions are about 90 seconds long, about 2-3 minutes apart, require intense concentration and pain management
    • Double peaking contractions, feeling like there is no break between contractions
    • Cervical dilation 7-10 cm

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5. What hospital bag?

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It took some time to pack my hospital bag and purchase the things I thought I might need postpartum.

Only to leave the bag in the car.

Even when it was finally retrieved, I realized that most of the stuff I bought was already freely offered by the hospital.

Additionally, I realized the only kind of relaxation I wanted was sleep, not a book or movie.

And you might as well scratch off getting any homework done either because that was the last thing on my mind.

Honestly, I don’t know what I actually used in that bag other than the newborn essentials, my phone charger, and my toothbrush.

This could have been due to the fact that we were discharged the next day, so I didn’t take a shower there nor did I want to put on any of my clothes because of the bloodbath that was going on below.

My point is that I overpacked and overbought!

There’s nothing wrong with that, just don’t stress too much about it.

At least make sure you have your necessities, then worry about extras.

What I’d recommend (instead of wasting your time and money):

  • Find out what the hospital offers you.  

You’re already paying for everything in the hospital, so might as well not have any unnecessary spending.

Where I stayed, they gave me a squirt bottle, witch hazel wet pads, aerosol numbing spray, plenty of pads and mesh underwear.

The ones I bought were much better though.. oh and don’t judge, in regards to the mesh underwear, at that point I preferred comfort over cuteness.

  • Pack smart.  

Think of things you’ll actually need and how long you anticipate your stay to be (although this is definitely unpredictable).

I only used my phone charger and my hygiene accessories (toothbrush, face wash, etc.).

I didn’t want to take my stuff out because hospitals are dirty places.

No makeup (I didn’t care but if doing your makeup can distract you from labor pain you might consider packing some!), no slippers (I used their socks because the only time I was out of bed was for bathroom breaks), and no pillow, but hey you might be different.

I was just out of it.

I couldn’t wait to check out and go home!

  • Pack just in case.  

So I know I just told you to not overpack but then again you never know.

What I don’t mean is pack everything you think you might need, like a pillow (sorry I’m messing, I understand hospital pillows are terrible) or even the slippers.

You know yourself better.

Just anticipate an extended stay or a possible desire to take a shower.

Just remember, it’s still a hospital, not a place that really feels like home.

So you’ll want to leave as soon as you can and not want to get all cozy.. at least that’s how I felt.

Minimalist Essentials You Should Pack in Your Hospital Bag? (all else is additional)

  • Momma
    • Extra change of loose and comfortable clothes and undergarments
    • Nursing top
    • Charger
    • Toothbrush and toothpaste
    • Facewash, moisturizer, etc.
    • If taking shower: shampoo and hairdryer
  • Daddy
    • Snacks
    • Change of clothes and undergarments
    • Socks
    • Toothbrush and toothpaste
    • Charger
    • Swim trunks (just in case)
  • Baby
    • Nipple cream
    • Pacifier (if you’re using one)
    • Home-welcoming outfit
    • Swaddle
    • Blanket
    • Car seat

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Final Thoughts

Labor can be quite worrisome for the first time mom, however, if you know what to expect and prepare yourself accordingly, you are already one step ahead.

Just take it easy and don’t stress about it. It will happen the way it is supposed to, just have the right mindset and you’ll do great momma!

I’m so excited for you!

You’re almost there!

You’ll be holding your precious baby before you know it!

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Are there some things you wish you had known about labor?

Let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, and until next time!

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2 comments on “5 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE Labor”

  1. Great post! Although, I don’t remember the opioid they gave me (I can’t remember which one it was) lasting long at all. Overall, I’m not sure it was worth the drowsiness. The epidural, however, was a godsend!!

    1. Hello Ashley,

      Thank you! I only opted for the epidural, however, they offered the opioids. I definitely think that the epidural was the better option, it doesn’t affect the baby at all.

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