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6 Things Labor and Delivery Nurses Wish You Knew Before Giving Birth

Photograph by Twenty20

Labor and delivery of a baby is a wild ride, isn’t it? For nine or so months you’re just focusing on not peeing your pants in the grocery store and then suddenly you have to bring that baby into the world. And it has to come out somewhere– either through a small hole or an incision in your tummy and honestly, neither are appealing. I got a chance to speak with several labor and delivery nurses and they shared with me their thoughts on what they wished new moms knew about giving birth, preferably before they show up to the hospital.

1. Be aware that early labor signs can be more than just contractions.

Some women have a backache, feel nauseous, have abdominal cramps and/or diarrhea and vomiting in the prodromal phase, which is the phase before full active labor. It’s important to understand you can be in labor and not have any contractions. These symptoms can last for just a few hours or last for weeks leading up to your actual delivery. If you are past 37 weeks, these symptoms are entirely normal.

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2. By all means, have a birth plan. But know labor doesn’t always go as expected.

Says Julie, RN: “Labor isn’t something you can plan. You have to be open and flexible when it comes time to have your baby.” Birth plans are nice, and it’s good to be prepared, but you need to be open-minded to whatever your body is trying to tell you. If you go in with very set expectations, you’re going to be disappointed, and some feel they have failed as a woman. The let down afterward can be huge if your birth didn’t follow your plan. Do the best you can do, and know that’s good enough, because there are so many curveballs.

Get your mama claws out and stick up for yourself.

3. Consider pain medications, even if you thought you weren’t going to take them.

Says Amy, RN: “Your nurse and doctor are not out to harm you and your baby. We want a healthy mom and healthy baby just as much as you do. Pain medication is safe to use in labor. The staff won’t offer anything to you that is harmful or unsafe. In fact, they usually only offer pain medications when they think you need it, or are not coping well with your labor. So if you think you need it, take it.”

4. Be an advocate for yourself.

It’s so important to tell your nurse or midwife what you want and need. Ask them to notify you of your labor patterns. Do you want to use a birthing ball or bar? Tell them you need help with working through your contractions. Especially if this is your first baby, because the help isn’t always automatically available. As Terri, RN, puts it, “Get your mama claws out and stick up for yourself.”

5. It’s good to be prepared for breastfeeding.

Some women can’t or don’t want to breastfeed, and it’s so important to understand that it’s OK to use formula. You did not fail if you didn’t breastfeed. If you do choose to nurse, know it’s going to be really hard for one to two weeks. Be proactive when it comes to getting help from a lactation consultant (LC) in the hospital. Terri, RN, cautions, “You may worry if your baby is getting enough colostrum or milk in those early days. Be an advocate for yourself: Ask questions. You will probably get conflicting answers from many different nurses and LCs. Ask them for an explanation of why they tell their patients to do something a certain way. Gather that wisdom from everyone and then do what works for you.”

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6. Have a game plan for postpartum depression.

“If you have any history of depression or anxiety, be proactive, because you are at a higher risk," explains Terri, RN, “Have that discussion with your doctor before you deliver so that you can have someone call to check in with you after you have your baby.” Reach out in advance for support, even if you don’t have a history of depression. The early days of new motherhood can be lonely and having activities ready to go before you have the baby, such as a mom and baby group, or breastfeeding support group can make a huge difference. Especially for working moms, going from having a career to staying home can be hard and isolating.

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