image by Daniel Lobo (lic)Labor is the process through which a pregnancy ends and a baby is born. The birth of a child is one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences a person can have. At the same time, the labor process can be difficult, painful and confusing, particularly if you have not previously experienced the process before, or are going into it without having been educated as to its complexities. No two births are the same, and no two mothers have the same experience during labor. The best way to prepare yourself for this important last stage of pregnancy is to know your options and to know yourself and what you want for the birth of your child.
It is a good idea that you establish a plan for labor and delivery well in advance of your due date. The first decision you need to make when thinking about the birth of your baby is where you would feel most comfortable delivering. There are many options for where your baby can be born, and how your baby will be delivered. For example, with the approval of your health care provider, you may choose to deliver your baby at home, or even in a tub at a birthing center. Many women find the idea of delivering their baby in the comfort of their own home to be very appealing. Others feel more comfortable delivering in a hospital where they can receive immediate medical attention should something go wrong. Even if you choose to deliver within a hospital, there may be various options you can choose from which will affect your labor process.
As you consider where you want to have your baby, also start thinking about who you want to be present throughout your labor and the delivery of your baby. Many facilities allow several people, including partners, family members, any of the baby's siblings, and even friends to be present during the birth of the baby. Some women also choose to enlist the services of a Doula. Doulas are women who help a birthing mother by providing emotional, physical, and educational support for labor. More information about Doulas can be found at the website for the Doulas of North America website: http://www.dona.org. Take the time to decide whether you want the birth of your child to be a private event between you and your partner, or if there are others that you would like to share in the experience with.
Another choice you will need to make in preparation for labor is whether or not you want to use pain medication. It is impossible to predict how much pain you will feel when you are in labor, and therefore it is impossible to know whether or not you will require medication in order to remain comfortable during the process. Talk to your health care provider about the various methods for pain relief that are available (both natural and medical), and do your own research to narrow down the methods you find most appealing. Note that you can choose more than one method so that if one fails, another is ready to go. It is important to come up with a plan that you can be comfortable with, as it will make your birthing experience more satisfying.
In preparing for a delivery, you may choose to take relaxation and breathing technique classes, or to do exercises to help strengthen the muscles you will use during labor. Lamaze classes teach breathing exercises that have been popular among pregnant women for many years. More information about Lamaze is available at http://www.lamaze.org. Check with your health care provider or your local hospital to see whether they offer classes for expectant mothers; it is very likely that they do.
Labor can be a highly stressful, painful, and emotional time. Therefore, it is best to make decisions about how you want to experience this time before you find yourself in labor. Once you understand your options, you may choose to write a birth plan, which can give your health care providers, friends, and relatives specific instructions for how you want to experience each stage of labor. If you do decide to write a birth plan, be sure to review it with your health care provider prior to your labor, so he or she will be familiar with your wishes when the time comes.