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A guide to planning your birth and delivery

If you’re here we’re guessing you’re going to give birth and want to know what you need to do (other than show up and push at some point). Well, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide we’re going to outline how to plan for childbirth and delivery, from the minute your contractions start to the moment you bring your new baby home.

It’ll take a little more prep than just watching a few childbirth videos and packing your hospital bag (although, those things are useful too). So, let’s dive in and get planning.

Step 1: Learn how childbirth happens

Hot tip: Do a birth class!

A great first step is to get the lowdown on what actually happens when you give birth. This is where childbirth classes can help. You may not exactly want to dwell on all the gory details, but knowing what to expect can help you (and your partner) mentally prepare. You’ll probably find it really interesting.

You can sign up to a birth class at your hospital, and tour the birthing suites to see where the action will happen. However, it may be useful to complete additional classes to learn more about the stages of labor and natural pain management techniques. 

Search for ‘childbirth classes near me’ to pull up some local classes (Calm Birth, Lamaze or HypnoBirth are all great options). Or if in-person isn’t possible, there are a suite of online childbirth classes you can do too (She Births is a great Australian-based one!).

The signs of labor

Get to know the signs you’re going into labor, so you’re ready to head to hospital when your baby says it’s time.

Signs you’re in labor can include:

  • Waters breaking – This may be a gush of fluid or a trickle.
  • Period-like cramps – Except, times a billion.
  • Diarrhea – Or the urgent feeling of needing to poop, which is really your baby’s head pressing down on your bowels.
  • Backache – Except, times a billion.
  • Contractions – This is when your womb muscles start to tighten and relax to open the cervix and push that baby on out. You’ll actually feel it from the outside if you put your hand on your abdomen. It’s painful AF too.
  • A “show” – Not of the Moulin Rouge variety, sorry. This is what it’s called when the sticky plug of mucus in your cervix comes away, which sometimes signals the start of labor.

These signs of labor only apply if you go into ‘spontaneous labor’ – which is when your baby decides to come of its own accord. In some cases, labor may be medically induced in a hospital to get the party started. Either way, here’s what you can expect next…

The stages of labor

There are three stages of childbirth when it comes to a vaginal birth:

  1. Early and active labor – In early labor, contractions start coming but are few and far between. You may be able to stay at home and hold a conversation for a while.  Things ramp up during active labor when contractions get more regular and intense! You’ll probably move to a hospital or your birthing location for this stage for monitoring. This first stage of childbirth can last from a few hours up to a few days – it’s very variable.
  2. Birth of your baby – When your cervix is dilated to 10cm, it’s time to push! Your health care provider may give you a heads-up on when to start pushing, or your body may let you know of its own accord (the urge to push that kid out may be so strong you couldn’t stop it if you tried). This part can go from a few minutes to several hours.
  3. Delivery of the placenta – Once your baby is out, your medical team will help you deliver your placenta, which usually takes anywhere from a few minutes up to half an hour.

Some people call this type of labor a ‘natural childbirth’, but we consider all forms of childbirth ‘natural’ – even if your baby is born via cesarean section surgery. There’s more than one way to do it, mama!

Different types of delivery methods

The two main ways to deliver your baby are via vaginal birth and cesarean section (c-section). Here’s what they involve:

Vaginal birth
  • Can be triggered spontaneously or medically induced.
  • Can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. (Yes, DAYS!)
  • May be assisted by medical interventions such as forceps, a vacuum or pain management techniques like an epidural.
  • Recovery includes bleeding, a sore vagina after birth, and may involve stitches in the case of vaginal tearing. Vaginal childbirth recovery may take six weeks or longer.
C-section birth
  • Can be planned or unplanned (i.e. ‘emergency’ cesarean).
  • Involves surgery in an operating room. An incision is made in the abdomen and uterus, which will result in a c-section scar.
  • Takes anywhere from 30–90 minutes.
  • C-section recovery may take longer than with vaginal childbirth, as the surgical wound may take up to eight weeks to heal.

When we look at what’s involved with a c-section versus vaginal birth, they’re pretty different in how they’re done. BUT, the most important thing to note is that they’re both routine, safe and natural ways to bring your baby into the world. 

You’ll discuss your options with your medical team in the lead-up to your birth, and they’ll help you make the safest decision on how to deliver your baby.

Potential monitoring or intervention

It’s fairly rare these days to encounter a birth that doesn’t involve some form of monitoring or intervention. This can include things like:

  • Electronic fetal monitoring – This requires you to wear straps around your pregnant belly which connect to a monitor. The device records fetal heart rate and can detect if your baby is distressed during childbirth. While it’s considered safe and used widely to monitor laboring women, its use has been linked to a higher rate of cesarean section births. Non-mobile monitors can also restrict your movements.
  • Induction – If your baby is well overdue or there are risks to you or them, your care team may suggest inducing your labor. You may have a gel applied to your cervix, medicine placed vaginally or in the mouth, or a balloon inserted up there to help soften it. Your doctor may rupture your amniotic sac, and give you oxytocin to prompt contractions to begin. In most inductions, a combination of the above methods are used.
  • C-section – As we touched on above, this involves surgery to deliver your baby. It may be planned ahead of time to avoid risks (giving you a set date and time for your delivery, bonus!), or it may be advised if your labor isn’t progressing as planned.
  • Epidural – This is the most effective pain relief method for childbirth, used by 71 per cent of women in the US, according to one Stanford study. If you ask for it, an anesthetist will inject medicine into your back, to numb you from the waist down and reduce the feeling of contractions. It limits movement and comes with risks, so it’s important to discuss this and explore other pain management options if you’re not comfortable with it.
  • Forceps and vacuum delivery – Don’t worry, no one will be shoving a Dyson up your vagina. If your baby is in the right position for delivery but they’re stubbornly not coming out, or the baby needs to be delivered faster than you can push them out, your doctor may use forceps to gently pull them out, or attach a soft cup that applies suction.
  • Episiotomy – Your doctors may make a small incision in your perineum (the area between your vagina and anus) to aid with delivery. This may help your baby come out more easily, but with the potential risk of larger tears than if the area stretched and tore on its own.

     

Some people consider a true ‘natural birth’ to be one without any intervention at all. But again, we think that childbirth, in whatever form it takes, is natural and normal even if it does require some intervention methods. 

While you may wish to have an intervention-free birth, it’s important to know what potential techniques your medical team could recommend to help you deliver your baby safely. 

Step 2: Cultivate a confident and positive mindset

Hot tip: Write out your birth preference!

It should seem pretty obvious that actually writing down your birth preference (sometimes called a birth plan) is a key way to plan for childbirth and delivery. But we’ll mention it here anyway.

You may include:

  • Your wishes around pain management options (for example, “I’d like to try TENs and hot showers before being offered an epidural”). 
  • Your specific desires for your birthing environment, including who you want there with you and what comforts you’d like (i.e. candles, essential oils, that bangin’ Spotify playlist you’ve prepared)
  • Your birth affirmations or mantras (to keep you on track when you reach the MAKE IT STOP point of labor)
  • Your intervention requests (for example, “I don’t want an episiotomy”)
  • Your duty of care instructions (for example, “my partner can make decisions for me about X”)
  • Your immediate postpartum wishes (for example, skin-to-skin contact with your baby, delayed cord clamping, breastfeeding etc.)

     

Researching and preparing for birth will help you solidify your preferences so you can approach it with clarity. In saying that, there always needs to be room for flexibility in a birth ‘plan’ – because anything can happen!

Being educated yet open-minded can help reduce the likelihood of birth trauma and leave you to calmly go with the flow.

Birth affirmations

Having sayings or mantras on hand to repeat to yourself when the going gets tough in labor can make all the difference. Many women go into childbirth with fear and anxiety, but these feelings actually inhibit natural hormones needed for labor.

You’re probably wondering, ‘how painful is childbirth?’ And we won’t lie – it usually hurts like hell. But it’s a good pain that you can prepare for mentally. You absolutely can manage it.

By arming yourself with empowering statements, you can reframe the sh*ttiness of labor pain and turn the experience into something powerful and beautiful.

Other natural pain management techniques

Aside from pharmacological pain management options, it’s useful to have a grasp of natural (drug-free) techniques you can use to assist with labor.

This can include breathing exercises, movement, and visualizations or affirmations that you can do during labor to help you cope with pain. Not only do these help you stay calm and relaxed, they can give you something to focus on other than your painful predicament.

Step 3: Prepare for the cost of childbirth

Hot tip: Create a baby budget!

Okay so here’s one step you don’t want to overlook when planning for childbirth: how you’ll pay for it! Being aware of what you might be up for can allow you to budget in advance, and not end up pleading with your doctors to keep the baby in.

Budgeting for your pregnancy and delivery is one thing, but keep in mind that there will be immediate postpartum and newborn expenses to contend with, as well as those pesky ongoing costs of raising a child. Creating a baby budget early on in your pregnancy is the way to go!

How much does childbirth cost?

The average cost of childbirth varies significantly from state to state in the US. It also depends on your health insurance coverage, whether you birth in a hospital or birth center, and what type of delivery method you experience.

If your health insurance pays for most of it, you may not have significant out of pocket expenses. But it could cost upwards of $20,000 if you don’t have insurance or your coverage is limited. A c-section will cost more because it involves surgery. 

The trick is to do your research! Check your insurance policy (a fun, before-bed read), or talk to someone at the hospital if you don’t have adequate insurance. Investigate different options to meet your budget.

Step 4: Consider your postpartum care and recovery needs

Hot tip: Think beyond childbirth!

Once you’ve done the hard job of birthing your baby, a myriad of things will happen:

  • You may require procedures or stitches depending on the state of your body (read: vagina) after giving birth.
  • You’ll need to learn about breastfeeding or bottle feeding, and may need to express colostrum.
  • Your baby will be weighed, cleaned, and thoroughly examined for health issues.
  • Your baby might need special care if there are any concerns.
  • You’ll fill out a bunch of paperwork and choose a name for the birth certificate.
  • You and your partner will take approximately one thousand photos of your precious newborn (and you’re absolutely entitled to).

     

Have a think about how you’d like to approach the period after birth. You might consider your feeding options in advance, decide who you’d like to visit you (or not), and plan for packing up and heading home to recover.

Your stay in hospital

How long you stay in hospital after childbirth will depend on how your labor and delivery unfolded, whether you’re in a hospital or birthing center, and what sort of post-birth care you and your baby need.

For an uncomplicated vaginal birth you may remain in hospital for 24 hours to two days. For a c-section delivery you may be there for three to four days.

Postpartum recovery

Whether you delivered vaginally or via c-section you’ll need to take it easy for a while. Before you’re discharged from hospital, your doctors will take you through any wound care requirements and advice for your vaginal birth or c-section recovery time periods. For example, they’ll probably advise against sex for six weeks or more.

Taking in all this info can be overwhelming. Ask your partner or birth support person to help you take notes, and get on the same page about your postpartum plan for recovery and bonding with your baby.

Step 5: Have a game plan for go time

You’re pretty much ready to pop that baby out by now. But before you put your birth plan down, here are a few last things to think about.

Birthing support

Consider getting a doula to support you during childbirth, or look up ways to get your partner or birth support person up to speed to assist you in labor. (Psst! They can accompany you to birth classes to get some tips.)

Your hospital bag/birthing kit

Being in hospital drags at the best of times. Make sure you pack a bag filled with all the things you might need for your birth and postpartum stay. This includes:

  • Comforts to have on hand during birth.
  • Tiny baby clothes, blankets, nappies and wipes.
  • Underwear (the big, comfy kind) and pajamas for you.
  • Nipple care and breast pads.

     

Home management

Think about who will care for any other children or pets while you’re in hospital. Line up carers or people to check in on your house for you while you’re away.

Heading home with your new baby

Plan your transport home from the hospital and stock your house with food, and self-care and baby products to keep you going for a few weeks while you rest and recover. No one wants to go home to an empty fridge so please think about how you’ll eat, be it meal prep, delivery services, or a pre-planned meal train with your friends and family.

Labor and childbirth can seem like a terrifying event at the end of a long, uncomfortable pregnancy journey. But mama hear this: giving birth will be one of the most incredible and impactful experiences of your life. And by the way… You. Can. Do. It.

Your birth might not unfold exactly the way you envision, but understanding the different ways you can bring a baby earthside, and what to expect before and after, may help you prepare for however it does go down. 

 

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