No two labor and delivery experiences are exactly the same. Still, it’s important to understand the basics so you can be as prepared as possible for your big day. From labor and birth to pain management and more, we’ve got you covered.
The first sign of labor is the effacement – or thinning – of your cervix. This isn’t something you will feel; rather, your doctor will check for it during regular exams.
Another early sign of labor is the gradual opening of your cervix. This is what is meant by the word “dilation.” Many women dilate 2 or 3 centimeters prior to ever going into labor. Once true labor commences, expect increased dilation to happen quickly.
Another sign of labor is loss of the mucus plug. This thick plug of mucus, which protects the uterus from bacteria, often discharges during dilation. Discharge of the mucus plug doesn’t necessarily mean you’re starting labor, but it’s often a good indicator that labor is coming soon.
One of the surest indicators of labor is the regular occurrence of contractions. To determine whether yours are the real thing, take note of how long they last. If they last longer than 90 seconds and are happening at a regular pace, then chances are good you’re in labor.
Like labor, the actual birthing experience varies greatly from woman to woman. Changes in course during the process aren’t uncommon. Many women make new decisions about pain medication during labor, and doctors are at times forced to conduct unexpected C-sections. The best thing you can do to prepare is to continue to get plenty of rest, eat well, and stay positive.
It’s natural to be nervous about the pain you might feel during the birthing process. Medication can ease the pain of labor and delivery. Many women opt for epidural and spinal blocks, but there are several options available. Talk to your doctor about what type of pain medication might be right for you.
Epidural block. A regional anesthetic, an epidural block is typically used during labor or prior to a C-section. It involves the injection of medicine into the lower back, just outside the bag of fluid around your spinal cord. It takes 20 minutes to administer, and 10-20 minutes to take effect.
Spinal block. Some women choose a spinal anesthetic, which is injected directly into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord. It provides pain relief from the chest down for two hours, and you remain awake and alert as it takes effect.
Pudendal block. A local anesthetic injected into the vaginal wall, a pudendal block doesn’t stop the pain of contractions. Instead, it relieves pain in the lower vagina for about an hour.
Narcotics. Several narcotics may be used during the pregnancy experience. If you have an IV, you may be able to control your dosage. Narcotics decrease the perception of pain, and help you rest without causing weakness.
Nitrous Oxide. Nitrous oxide is a non-narcotic option for pain relief. Nitrous oxide is safe for both mom and baby. The gas works very quickly (two to three breaths) and is eliminated very rapid within a few breaths of breathing normal room air. The patient controls the flow of the nitrous oxide by applying the mask to their face to get a tight seal and then the gas flows as the patients breaths normally in and out.
Other potential pain relief options include local anesthetics, tranquilizers, or natural pain remedies. Talk to your doctor about which one might be right for you.