Friday, August 10, 2012

Labor advice

My youngest sister Brittany just had her second baby last week! (Her first was born 2 days before Inga.) She had another natural hospital birth, thanks to a wonderful doula, a supportive husband, and a fantastic labor nurse who advocated for everything she wanted.

Less than a day after the birth, she wrote this advice to our older sister Diedra. She is expecting her first baby and planning a natural hospital birth. I'm posting her advice here with her permission.

Isn't her family beautiful?

I sent this labor advice to Diedra and Jason while it was fresh on my mind. Jason commented that it was very detailed and long. I told him that labor advice is just like sex advice; if it is too general or filled with euphemisms, then it is not at all helpful. [Rixa's note: so true!]

1. Bring a sports bra or tank top to labor in. Because you won't be wearing pants, and you literally can't see anything below your tummy so you don't feel naked on the bottom. I wore a tank top with a built in bra (very soft fabric) that was PERFECT. Even the nurses loved it. I felt covered up while in the shower, but I didn't have extra fabric on. 

2. Bring juice and snacks for you and Jason. Our hospital had some, but I was so glad I brought juice boxes to sip on. Because a little sugar is helpful. Also, eat early on in labor, because when things really start to gear up, you don't want to eat but you may need the energy. I ate right when I got the hospital (snacked on crackers and cheese). And keeping Jason's energy high is just as important. Encourage him to snack in between contractions and keep drinking fluids.

3. Have a short birth plan. Mine is literally five sentences (I want a natural birth if possible, but I am okay with medication, no IV, no Hep B vaccine for baby, dad wants to be involved and cut cord, I am a modest person). It helps the nurses get to know you without being pushy or demanding. 

4. GET IN WATER. Nothing helps labor more than being in water. Jocelyn [my next younger sister who has 4 kids, the last 3 of them in an independent, in-hospital birth center] loves to soak/float in a tub. I don't like to sit on my bum, so I stand in the shower with my back in the water while Ben [Brittany's husband] is in front of me holding my arms and supporting my body during a contraction. Have Jason bring swim trunks so he can get a little wet if need be. It was so nice to have Ben in front of me holding my hands/arms and my doula to the side massaging my hips during each contraction. Also, standing has great benefits of using gravity to your advantage and you can wiggle/sway your hips the entire time, which helps the baby move down and readjust to get in place. I would stand in the water during the contraction, then step out in between to cool off and wiggle and take deep breaths. 

5. Practice breathing now. Breathing is something you can't fake and can be the difference between keeping calm and starting to panic when things get really really intense. I do Pilates breathing (deep breaths in through your nose, out through your mouth). Essentially you want to have deep, long breaths and you want to do this automatically. You could even just practice doing those breaths during a workout or while walking so you just do it. If you start to take shallow breaths, everything goes to pot. You need to breathe well in order to stay calm.

6. The most helpful things that Ben did for me are (this is really for Jason's benefit):
  • stand by my side the entire time
  • hold my hands/arms gently just so that I knew he was there
  • talk to me during each contraction kind of like stream of consciousness (you are doing great, you are strong, relax, etc)
  • gently rub my arms during contractions (soft touch feels great)
  • breathe or make groaning noises with me
  • hold my body weight between contractions when things get intense so that I don't have to hold up my own body
  • kiss my forehead occasionally between contractions
This is Ben's advice in his words: Jason has three jobs in the following order: 1. cheerleader, 2. lawyer/advocate, 3, butler.

7. Things that were helpful that my doula did: first off, you need to find a doula that you are instantly comfortable with. When I met mine the first time, I just felt we were friends already. She was warm and easy to like and very easy to talk to. You also want someone who was seen lots of natural births or done it herself. My doula adopted her kids, but she has seen lots of natural births and loves natural birth. The most helpful thing that my doula did was counterpressure (you essentially massage your hips/back/butt during a contraction to alleviate some of the pain). Yes, my doula would just massage my naked hips and butt and the only thing I thought about it was, "Oh, that feels really good." It was so helpful and took away some of the pain, which is priceless. You also want a doula who is more proactive and not shy, just so they will step in with suggestions for you and Jason and really take charge to help. 

8. The biggest helpful thing I learned from my previous doula was to say the word "out" emphasizing the T during the crazy painful contractions right near the end (when you are going from a 7-10). Near the beginning of labor you can just breathe through contractions, keeping your face and entire body relaxed. Then things hurt more, and it helps to buzz your lips or moan a little (like saying "aaaahhhh" gently) during contractions to keep yourself from tensing up. Then after awhile that just doesn't cut it. You start to want to tense up, push when you can't push yet or just yell in pain. So have your doula and Jason say "out" over and over and over again as fast as possible emphasizing the T. It doesn't have to be loud, just calm and quick. For some reason it is hard to say that T and tense up at the same time. It helps you focus on something without tensing up your face or body and keeps you from just clenching all over. I was so amazed that saying out really helped me keep my cool as I was going from a 8-10.

9. Bring a swim cover up or stretchy dress to wear instead of the hospital gowns for after delivery. I hate the gowns, because they have ties, never stay on well, and are just uncomfortable. Just bring a little dress to wear for the first day or two that is easy to pull down to nurse in. 

10. Feel free to say "wait" or "not right now" to the nurses or doctors. Often they want to check you, but they don't know that you are still trying to recover your breath or relax your body. So I would say wait, take several breaths and then tell them when I was ready. Or I would tell them to wait two more contractions. At first I was a little tentative about saying wait, but it was so nice to have them check me when I was relaxed instead of hesitant. And when a nurse or doctor made a suggestion (like "do you want me to break your water?"), I would say, "talk me through it and tell me all the pluses and minuses," because they don't always tell you that all at once. 

11. Sway your hips between and during contractions. Kind of like you are hula hooping or slow dancing with your husband. 

12. Tell your doula and nurse that you are modest by nature and don't want strangers or students to walk into your room. Some hospitals don't allow this, but others have students come in regularly. If they know you don't want it, then they will ask first or not do it at all.

Great advice! What would you add?


  1. Thanks for the OUT suggestion. It sounds great!
    And Congrats!!

  2. I found that any word with "F" in it made me feel better during those last transition contractions ... or really all of them. Since I'm not the type to EVER drop f-bombs, I just said "fa fa fa" or sometimes "frick frick frick" and you know, it was really pain-relieving. Now I know why people like the f-word so much. I now always say something with "f" in it when I stub my toe -- fiddlesticks, or fudge, or whatever.

    Though I have no doubt that the f-word would work even better. If I were the sort of person who could manage to say it.

    1. Ha! I am totally like you--can't bring myself to say an f-bomb even if I tried.

    2. This makes me giggle, because the first time my husband heard me drop the f-bomb was when I was in the middle of delivering our third baby, unexpectedly unassisted. It was in the middle of the push that got her out and it was rather drawn out. Rather surprised him. ;-)

  3. Thanks for sharing this; it's always interesting to read/see how different people experience labor. The thing that most stood out for me is that your sister said she liked it/found it helpful to have her husband talking to her during contractions. That is the complete opposite of how I felt. When I was in labor with my daughter, we talked, laughed, and discussed how things were going between contractions, but if anyone said a word during a contraction it really threw my concentration off. Even a whisper from my doula to my husband, "She's doing such a good job," made the contraction hurt much, much worse. I think the biggest thing your sister has to remember is that labor is different for everyone. It's good to know what works for other people, but she won't know what will work for her until she's in the moment, which is why the most important thing is knowing what her individual goals are for labor (doing it drug free or whatever, having a support person/doula who is experienced in supporting that goal, and being in an environment that is conducive to meeting her goal -- then she'll figure out how to make it happen in the moment.

    1. So true that everyone labors differently--I'm very hands-off during labor. I can't stand to be touched or talked to because it breaks my concentration. Someone telling me I'm doing a good job would just annoy me!


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