First, a little background information…
In reality, babies take their own path in life and it starts with delivery. The birth plan often gets tossed out the window and instead of feeling empowered, many new moms feel deflated by “failure” right when confidence is so desperately needed. The truth is babies thrive even when C-sections and epidurals are involved, and moms thrive when they’re guilt-free.
“Be open and flexible. I had an idea of how I wanted things to go and they didn’t…But in the end, everything was totally fine.” –Veteran Mom
If you put together a birth plan, see it as a guideline and not a guaranteed blueprint. If a drug-free, natural birth is your goal and all goes as planned—congrats!—you’re off to a great start. But if things take an unexpected path, know the end goal of having a healthy, beautiful baby will still be achieved: there is no such thing as failure.
“I wasn’t prepared to be early, and I went into labor two weeks before my due date. I thought I had one more week at work—we didn’t have a car seat installed, didn’t know the way to the hospital, So do that stuff way in advance.” --Veteran Mom
When we set a goal and it doesn’t manifest, it’s natural to feel disappointment, anger, and frustration; often the higher (more specific) the expectation, the stronger our feelings of defeat. So one of the best tools for heading off feelings of failure is to talk with Dad about potential scenarios; awareness of the emotional pitfalls (guilt, disappointment) following an unexpected birth scenario will be a huge help. Some moms see a C-section as no big deal, but for others, it’s hard to come to terms with childbirth not being what was envisioned.
“I had wanted a natural birth because I wanted to experience and feel everything. So my husband and I went through classes together, but I had to be induced…About six hours in, my blood pressure was high so I had to get an epidural. I was bummed but you have to be flexible. After the epidural, I was relaxed. I could feel her coming out, but it wasn’t painful. My husband got to help catch her, cut the cord and say it was a girl.” --Veteran Mom
With Dad, agree that your vision of childbirth is just that—a vision: it may not be what actually happens. Do your research, make wise choices, protect them as much as possible, then focus on aspects within your control. Again, the most important thing is delivering a healthy baby: a massive achievement no matter how you got there. And if you find yourself struggling with difficult and lasting emotions related to childbirth, let your partner know so you can get the professional support needed to work through it.
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“You have a birth plan, but remember to be as flexible as possible. Everything that we did not want to happen happened. I had a lot of medication, I had an IV, I was pumped with fluids, and we ended up having a C-section, so I got the “best” of both worlds. Nothing happened the way we wanted it to except for this [pointing to son]. When he came out, he was very healthy.” --Veteran Mom
- Comfy nightgown and loose fitting clothes, nursing bra/pads, inexpensive underwear. (Dark colors hide bleeding spots in case of leakage.)
- Warm, fluffy socks, flip-flops and/or slippers.
- Toiletries: toothbrush/paste, dry shampoo, hairbrush, hair ties, lotion, deodorant, body wash, lip balm.
- Hard candy to keep your mouth moist.
- Snacks—energy bars, trail mix, nuts.
- Insurance card and picture ID.
- Your pillow.
- Magazines and music.
“We had both my mom and her mom in the delivery room and, boy, was that a mistake. At one point, they were trying so hard to get pictures of the baby that I was completely pushed out.” --Veteran Dad
“What is the plan apart from to get it out? I mean, there isn’t an option to keep it in is there?” --Keira Knightly
WHAT IS IT?
Once in the hospital, on average, your contractions are 5 minutes apart and your cervix is dilated to 4 centimeters. This stage lasts about 6 hours (with lots of variation). Labor is really kicking in and your cervix will dilate to 8 centimeters. Pitocin can speed your labor up and an epidural can slow it down.
Contractions will get progressively tougher as they stretch your pelvis. Soon, you will not be able to talk through them. If pain medications are pre-arranged, now is the time. If they aren’t and you’re having a hard time coping with contractions early in active labor, they should be considered now versus later in labor.
HOW DAD CAN HELP:
This is when your corner-man really get to work. Things he'll want to try:
- Encourage you to walk around, but hold you during contractions
- Suggest a rocking chair, exercise ball or a shower to speed up labor.
- If pain meds are requested, insist they be delivered promptly.
- Use relaxation techniques and lots of gentle encouragement.
- Encourage you to breathe through the pain, breathing with you.
- Keep instructions simple and repeat them.
- Review pain control techniques.
WHAT IS IT?
Labor shifts into high gear as you dilate from 8 to 10 centimeters and get ready to give birth. This is the most intense part of labor, averaging 30 minutes, when your contractions are 2-3 minutes apart and last 1-2 minutes. If you’re not in a birthing room you will be moved to one.
This part can be scary. You may find yourself shaking, shivering, itching, nauseous/vomiting and making deep grunting sounds. Often there’s a bloody discharge. All normal. Contractions will slow down and then build up as the baby descends into your pelvis and your body gathers strength for the final push.
HOW DAD CAN HELP:
No matter how scary, Dad’s role will be to remain calm and keep reassuring you everything is OK.
- Dad can help you resist the strong urge to push by firmly directing your breathing.
- If you’re attempting a natural birth, you’re close to the finish. Dad will want to intensely coach you through contractions.
- He can let you know you’re doing a great job and the end of labor is near.
- If you had an epidural and want to be more active in the final pushing stage, he can ask to have your epidural dose lowered at the end of transition.
WHAT IS IT?
You’re in the red zone! Your baby is gradually propelled through the birth canal by intense contractions of your uterus and abdomen as you push. This averages 1 hour but varies. If you’ve had an epidural, it can take a little longer, and your loss of feeling will require more intense coaching.
Things will speed up and it is time for you to act on your instinctual urge to push. The doctor will direct what’s going on, with the nurse giving you instructions on pushing. Dad can follow their lead and reinforce what they tell you to do. This may include a pause in pushing right before the baby is born so the doctor can take steps to prevent tears.
HOW DAD CAN HELP:
Dad should get in physically close and help you any way he can:
- Help you maintain the position that provides you the best leverage.
- Remind you to keep your chin down for maximum force when you push.
- Help you adjust your position to get more leverage if needed.
- Help you pant through contractions if the doctor says to stop pushing.
- Ask for a mirror for you if you want to watch.
WHAT IS IT?
If squatting, lying on your side or being on all fours works best for you, go with what feels right if possible. One last push and your baby is born! Dad may want to cut the cord. You’re almost finished but it will take another 10-20 minutes to deliver the placenta and get sewn up if necessary. Remember, new babies can look blue, puffy, and scrawny with cone-like or lopsided heads at first.
WHAT IS HAPPENING?
Ask the doctor to hand Dad your baby after the birth. He can welcome him to the world and then present the baby to you, announcing the sex if it’s not predetermined. As you take your baby into your arms for the first time, it’s an amazing magical moment for your new family. Take your time and enjoy!
HOW DAD CAN HELP:
- Help you breastfeed soon after the baby is born by holding your baby’s head close to your breast.
- Unless your baby needs special care, insist on time together.
- Get some pictures; ask the nurse to take a few family shots.
- Get you a blanket if you get the chills.
- Request pain medication if afterbirth pains bother you.
“I had eight people in my room, and when you’re in the hospital and nursing is new and you’re trying to get the baby to latch with men in there taking pictures…the first couple of times breastfeeding, it’s a production. I thought I wanted everyone in there, but with baby number two we’ll say, ‘Come on over when we’re home.’” - Veteran Mom
“At the maternity tour, you can ask what the Cesarean rate is and compare it to other hospitals in your area. You can also ask your doctor’s office about their Cesarean rate.” --Veteran Mom
- Be sure your husband knows what you need so he can be your champion: talk about it in advance, as he’s the one who knows you best if unexpected circumstances arise.
- Have a code word for when you need Dad to know you’ve reached your limit and need pain medication.
- Nurses will come and go changing shifts, but Dad will be your constant support. He’ll want plenty of snacks and water available so he’s not leaving the room at the wrong time.
- Consider the atmosphere (visitors: who, how many, how long?) you’d like in the delivery room and after the baby is born, because too many guests is a major complaint from new moms.
Sometimes things less important may impede your birth experience, and that’s exactly what it is: an experience. If you invited someone to be present in the room then changed your mind, don’t feel guilty expressing your needs. Your comfort and wishes are more important than pleasing others. If you need someone to leave the room or not enter, ask the nurses for help—they’re pros.
“The teamwork started in the hospital. I had a C-section and I wasn’t really mobile. He would help by getting me stuff. Whether it was for the baby or for me, and the nurse showed him how to change a diaper…From the moment he became a dad, he just naturally did it—swaddling, everything.” –Veteran Mom