It is entirely natural to be somewhat nervous about the upcoming birth. Labour pain is a particular concern for many new mothers. Natural methods and medications can help make this more tolerable. Water births, which allow for a gentler birthing process, have become very popular. A caesarean section may also be considered, depending on the situation.
There are a number of signs that your baby won't keep you waiting much longer. You may notice that the pressure on your ribs and breastbone eases: the baby is pushing down. For some time, your tummy has occasionally been feeling hard. These are known as Braxton Hicks contractions, which will increase in strength and frequency. You may be more unsettled and anxious than normal and feel stabbing pains in the lower back, pelvic and pubic area.
One common indication that birth is imminent is the loss of the plug of mucus from the cervix. This can happen when the first contractions start or a few days earlier. Prompt action is required when your waters break, which means that the amniotic sac has ruptured. If this happens, you should contact your midwife or doctor immediately.
Pre-labour and actual labour
Labour is a series of contractions that cause cramping pains. They feel as though a belt is being pulled tighter and then let out again. How can you tell whether the pains are pre-labour contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions or the real thing? Genuine labour contractions will increase in strength and become more frequent and more painful. Initially, the contractions will occur at 10 to 15-minute intervals. The contractions will become more frequent, until they come every four to five minutes. During this phase, individual contractions can last between 20 and 60 seconds, which indicates that birth is imminent. You need to inform your midwife immediately and make your way to your chosen birthing venue.
Household remedies for labour pains
There are a variety of natural remedies and strategies for making labour pains more bearable:
- Many mothers-to-be choose acupuncture or homoeopathy. Around half of all pregnant women find that homoeopathic treatments reduce pain and help them to relax.
- Heat is good for helping you to relax. Try placing a microwavable wheat bag or hot water bottle on your back.
- Focus on your breathing. Breathe out with regular, strong, deliberate exhalations to reduce the risk of hyperventilation. Feel free to say Ah or Oh as you breathe out. Screaming can help you to relax too.
- Move your pelvis. For example, make circles with your pelvis while sitting on a Swiss ball. Alternatively, sit astride a chair and move your hips backwards and forwards.
- Give yourself a gentle massage at the base of your sacrum, around your lower back or around your shoulders – wherever you need it.
Medication to alleviate labour pains
If natural remedies and methods fail to ease your labour pains, muscle relaxants are available as suppositories and infusions. Stronger painkillers may also be used. You should only take painkillers that have been recommended by your doctor or gynaecologist. Don't just grab whatever painkillers you can find in the medicine cabinet: you need to consider the potential harmful side effects on your baby.
The final remedy for easing extreme labour pains is an epidural. This local anaesthetic numbs the region from your hips to your feet. The birthing mother will not feel any pain, but is still conscious and able to witness the birth of her child.
Giving birth in water can significantly reduce labour pains. The water is heated to between 34°C and 36°C, helping you to relax. The feeling of weightlessness also helps. The birthing mother has greater freedom of movement, making it easier to move into more comfortable positions to ease the pain.
Studies have shown that water births significantly reduce the likelihood of perineal tears and also reduce blood loss. The birthing process is much less stressful for babies born in the water.
A water birth is not an option for breech births or if you are expecting twins. When deciding whether to opt for a water birth, bear in mind that it is harder for the midwife or obstetrician to intervene rapidly if there are any complications.
The birth of your baby is divided into four phases:
|Dilation||Contractions occur at least once every seven minutes. The cervix dilates to 2-3cm.|
|Transition||The contractions become more intense. The cervix continues to dilate to the requisite 10cm.|
|Delivery||The baby's head has entered the birth canal. Your midwife will give you helpful advice on how to push and breathe correctly.|
Your baby has arrived. Your baby's lungs begin to work – baby may scream. Your baby will soon want to find your breast to feed.
The midwife or your partner will cut the umbilical cord. You will experience contractions to release the placenta (afterbirth), which supplied your baby with oxygen and nutrition while in the womb.
The duration of the birth process depends on a multitude of factors, which tend to vary from one birth to the next. Some birthing mothers have to be incredibly patient during a natural birth. But the whole process can also be over very quickly.
There may be medical reasons for performing a Caesarean section or you may choose this option for personal reasons. Medical grounds for a Caesarean section include changes in the child's heartbeat, a prolapsed umbilical cord, shoulder or breech presentation, premature birth and multiple births. An emergency Caesarean section may be performed if there are complications during labour in order to save the baby or mother.
However, the operation is associated with the risk of infection, tissue injury, poor wound healing, side effects from the anaesthetic and increased risk of thrombosis. You will need to discuss your own situation with your gynaecologist and midwife.
Registering the birth
Usually the hospital or birthing centre will register the birth of your newborn at the local register office. Your midwife may contact you during the registration process. The best thing is to pack all of the requisite documents in your hospital bags. What you will need:
- Family register or record booklet
- Proof of residence
- Proof of identity
- Birth registration form