Pregnant women: print this out and hand it right to your partner, you will thank me later.
By now you’ve already gone through the excitement of a positive pregnancy test, received the hugs and high fives from friends and family, and made the decision whether to find out if you’re expecting a he or a she. Now, though, it’s starting to sink in: you have to have this baby! This cheat sheet is by no means everything that your partner will need to know on the big day, rather it is something to fall back on if it’s go time and all the information from childbirth classes fly out the window.
By now you’ve learned more about the uterus and cervix than you ever thought you would; even heard about something called a mucus plug. Now it’s time to connect the dots, to understand just what’s going on down there, in there, and out here. The uterus and cervix, believe it or not, are actually one in the same. The cervix is the gateway to the uterus, which contains your baby, the placenta, amniotic sac and nearly a gallon of fluid!
Early Labor: How to Know & What to Do!
When the early stage of labor begins, the cervix begins to thin out and become softer, allowing it open easily. She may feel what is described as a shooting or pricking sensation along with mild cramping, similar to PMS cramps for some. She will probably be able to maintain a nice conversation with small pauses while going about her business. The best thing to do is to go about what you had planned and focus on your last few hours or days as just a couple (or more!) It’s also important to note here that if she has had a cervix check done at the midwife or doctor’s office, it may not mean much. Some women are 4 centimeters for weeks before going into labor. My mother went from 0 centimeters to nearly having me in the hospital parking lot!!
Active Labor: What now!?
The next stage is active labor, this is when the cervix begins to open at a more rapid pace and your baby begins to make the journey into the pelvis. This is strong, amazing work, and she should be treated as it is by everyone in the room. Contractions become stronger, longer, and take on a regular pattern, happening every few minutes.
This is the time to encourage and support every single minute. Suggest that she relax her mouth and muscles while contracting, letting out deep sounds from her belly along with deep breaths to give oxygen to your baby (fun fact: the mouth, anus and vaginal muscles are all related! Relaxing and opening them helps labor progress effectively.
Physical support is critical during this time frame. You don’t have to be a licensed massage therapist to give her fantastic pain relief, just rub wherever you see her tensing up, especially the shoulder area. Alternate hot and cold cloths on her face and the back of her neck, this will help with her constant temperature changes.
Encourage changes in position, being on all fours, sitting and bouncing on a Pilates ball, and side lying on the bed are all great choices. Avoid laying on the back as much as possible, contrary to popular belief, this can actually close the pelvis and make baby journey uphill. Make sure you always have a water bottle handy, offering it to her constantly, even putting the straw right in her mouth. Snacks on hand will keep her energy up, but remember too that labor can be a time for puking. So choose foods that are high in protein, healthy fats and natural sugar while keeping in mind that it needs to be able to come back up as easy as it goes down.
When to make the call
By now, you may be wondering if it’s time to head into the hospital or call the midwife (for home birthing families.) While there is no right or wrong answer, short of actually seeing the baby coming out (CALL 911!) it’s a personal decision.
The general rule is 4-1-1: contractions that are 4 minute apart, lasting at least 1 minute, for 1 hour, but we all know that not everyone plays by those rules, babies included. Some better signs to look for are emotional markers. She may begin to enter a phase of self-doubt, you may hear the tell tale “I can’t do this!” mantra. It’s common shortly before the quickest and most intense part of labor, transition; by the way, the appropriate response to this is always “You are doing it!”
She may be short on conversation and might be short with you, period. Don’t take this personally, it means that she is in the labor zone and conserving energy whenever she can. Physically, you may notice that she is starting to get closer to the ground and, sorry to say, but she may start farting. A lot. Your partner may also poop a bit. If you need to take a moment to giggle, let it all out now; we can almost guarantee that she is self-conscious about this. If she does do either, put down the air freshener. Most birthing women will poop on the table. Pretend it didn’t happen, instead tell her how she’s getting so close to having her baby! She will thank you later. Isn’t it funny that in labor, rudeness and flatulence are encouraged? These are all great signs that point towards going in.
You will need to speak to you practitioner about the procedure for calling and arriving at labor and delivery before hand.
At the Hospital!
Once at the hospital, your support is a top priority! Quite a few first timers believe that their doctor, midwife or labor nurse will be there 24/7, but this is rarely the case. Nurses are the unsung heroes of the maternity ward (bring them cookies, seriously) and often take on a huge patient load to help many mamas birth. Your care provider usually comes in to “catch” your baby and maybe to discuss options with you once in awhile. There are exceptions, of course, but this is why it pays to be prepared (and hire a doula their expertise will help greatly…just saying!)
As she enters the transition phase, contractions will come very close together and she may look like she is in a totally different place. She may not be able to respond, so consider suggesting position changes, keep giving her water and food (depending on hospital policy) and through each contraction, remind her of how close she is. This is the most common time to ask for pain relief, usually while she is in the middle of a walloping contraction. Remind her that she is going to be holding her baby very, very soon and maybe suggest: “Let’s talk about an epidural in three more contractions,” so she can make a real, informed choice at a better time. Generally though, transition only lasts thirty minutes to an hour before pushing begins, it is both the hardest work and the most relieving as it means you are almost there!
All About Pushing
First timers always ask, “when will I know to push,” trust me you will know. She may start feeling as though she needs to use the toilet really badly. She may start making grunting or growling noises. If you haven’t already, this is the time to hit the “call nurse” button.
While each practice or hospital may have different policies on pushing, evidence shows that any position other than the back is best to let gravity do the work. Yes, babies do come out! The pushing you see on TV, with the people shouting “ONE! TWO! THREE!” are only usually used in labors where mama has had a strong epidural and is no longer able to feel the need to push. When she knows she has to, she rarely needs someone else to guide her. The best encouragement is to remind her to follow her body, to push when it feels best for her.
It’s Baby Time!
When your baby is crowning, you could ask for a mirror to hand to her if she’d like to see the action or encourage her to reach down and touch her baby. This may be too much for her, so say something like “wow, he/she has a lot of beautiful hair!” this will remind her of her ultimate payoff. Then, it’s baby time! Out comes a new, amazing little creature, covered in waxy vernix; encourage having the baby placed skin to skin on your partner’s chest. Now would be a great time to remind your care provider if your partner would like to keep the cord pumping precious blood to your baby while still attached and uncut, as well as a reminder if she has chosen not to receive Pitocin to deliver the placenta unless medically necessary. The placenta, thankfully, does not have bones and usually detaches and comes out by itself within a few minutes to half an hour, usually with just one push.
After this there’s not much else to say. Bask in your love for your partner as well as your new daughter or son. Go ahead and enjoy that oxytocin high; both of you have earned it. You only get one birth experience for each child, why not do everything you can and hire the best fitting doctor/midwife and doula support for your family? Do your research, find your voice and give your partner your all, for your baby—for your whole family.
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